Stephen Kent

While it may have been undertaken with the best of intentions, a plan by a major hotel chain to have guests subsidize the wages of housekeepers is a bit off-putting.

Last month, Marriott International began to place envelopes in 160,000 guest rooms of its properties around the U.S. and Canada in a campaign called “The Envelope Please.”

“Hotel room attendants often go unnoticed, as they silently care for the millions of travelers who are on the road at any given time. Because hotel guests do not always see or interact with room attendants, their hard work is many times overlooked when it comes to tipping,” Marriott said in a statement.

“Maids and housekeepers earned a median annual salary of $19,570, or approximately $9.41 per hour, in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” said a recent article in Fortune magazine. Marriott says its housekeeping staff is paid a competitive wage, above the federal and state minimum wage.

However, “to a fatigued public living in an economic environment where corporate profits are at their highest level in at least 85 years and employee compensation is at its lowest level in 65 years, Marriott’s well-intentioned tip envelopes seem like yet another case in which a corporation is relying on consumers to pay workers’ wages instead of investing in employees directly,” wrote Claire Zillman in Fortune magazine.

But this is not as bad as the fast-food industry, where efforts to gain a $15 an hour minimum wage are expanding throughout the country.

There are 10 million working poor, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 2.9 million in the fast-food industry, according to the Pew Research Center. The average number of hours worked per week is 25, says the bureau, which means companies do not have to pay benefits.

The restaurants contend that if their workers were paid $15 hourly minimum wage, prices would increase. So they should. Why should burger eaters be shielded from an increased cost of doing business?

Fast-food chains long contended their workers were teenagers working a few hours a week for spending money. But that time has long passed. In the changing economy, as hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs were outsourced, those workers remaining had to move down — rather than up.

One study found 52 percent of fast-food workers are on some form of public assistance, receiving $7 billion a year in public assistance.

Pay more for your burger and fries or pay more in taxes.

These subsidies represent a type of “corporate welfare” — they benefit businesses and enable them not to pay their workers a living wage.

Firms have a social responsibility and — for those who believe in such — a moral obligation to pay a wage to workers for the means and resources to support a family.

For any business not to accept this responsibility as a cost of doing business is passing this responsibility to its customers.

Morality is a cost of doing business and employees must not be forced to depend on the charity of customers to receive the wages they deserve.

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Kent is the retired editor of two archdiocesan newspapers and has a master’s degree in spirituality. He can be contacted at: considersk@gmail.com.