It’s no secret that Maryland envrionmentalists hate the poultry industry in Maryland. They blame chicken farms up and down the Eastern Shore for polluting the Chesapeake Bay, all to make massive corporate profits for Frank Perdue’s family. A stinging loss for the environmentalists occured recently when the University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Clinic spent taxpayer dollars to go after a small family run chicken farm on the Eastern Shore for a New York non-profit. The judge ruled against the non-profit, saying that it didn’t prove that the farm was the source of the contamination.
Losing in Federal Court is not going to stop the opponents of the poultry industry, who have many friends in Annapolis and now they have a new tactic. In order to remain profitable, chicken packaging facilities have an exemption to the minimum wage due to their skill level, the reality of them being in a rural area with a lower cost of living, and the competition for manufacturing exports. In fact, Senator Barbara Mikulski has pushed for expanding the H2B immigrant visa program to bring in low wage immigrant workers to do these type of job, and work at the 25 seafood processing plants on the Eastern Shore. Now those jobs are about to disappear as the Maryland General Assembly is poised to not only remove their exemption, but increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2015.
There is a completely different argument to be made about the efficacy of increasing the minimum wage, especially by so much. Studies have shown that the actual buying power of the minimum wage is less than 50% of what it used to be due to inflation. The Texas Public Policy Foundation pointed out that the $7.25 minimum wage in Texas would buy $8.04 worth of goods and services, whereas the California minimum wage of $8 would buy $6.06 of goods and services there. This shows how inflation makes a higher minimum wage meaningless since it just helps propel the cost of living.
If you increase the cost of living, and the cost of doing business, some jobs will disappear. That is the point for some of the sponsors when it comes to the poultry industry in Maryland which accounts for a billion dollars of Maryland’s economy. Despite these worker’s livelihood, despite the national recession and job creation being at the top of list, and despite the collateral damage, they are moving ahead. Most of these poultry packaging facilities will move over to Delaware and take the jobs and taxes with them, while still having the regional balance they need. In fact, the chicken farms will remain in Maryland and continue to be a problem for the environmentalists, but it’ll be a little less convenient for them.
The collateral damage will be far worse. Maryland doesn’t have many export industries left, but poultry, seafood processing, and agriculture canning were one of the remaining industries that thrived and also keeps a lot of land rural. By removing their ability to remain profitable, and making them pay the same as businesses located in the expensive Washington suburbs these jobs won’t remain in Maryland long.