Apart from it being total bullshit, I’m not sure that the “total compensation” crowd has fully thought through their proposal, particularly when it comes to health care benefits.
Because total compensation would allow employers to deduct from their minimum wage obligation the cost of providing health insurance, it effectively shifts the entire cost of health insurance premiums onto the backs of minimum wage workers. Accept your employer provided health insurance and the cost of the employer’s share will be deducted from your paycheck. Cancel your employer provided health insurance (say, because you are covered under your spouse’s insurance), and your take-home pay will rise according.
Whatever your decision, your employer’s cost of labor remains exactly the same. As such, your health insurance benefit ceases to be a “benefit” when your employer’s share of the premium is effectively zero.
And yet under the Affordable Care Act (you know, “ObamaCare”), employers with 50 or more employees will soon be required to offer affordable coverage to all of their full time employees—”affordable” meaning that the worker does not have to spend more than 9.5 percent of income on premiums.
So what constitutes “income” and what constitutes “premiums” under a total compensation system? These are questions that would surely be litigated, but a quick look at the typical American pay stub makes clear that your federal taxable income (the relevant figure for ACA purposes) is your compensation minus the cost of your health insurance premium. So if your entire premium—including the alleged employer share—were deducted from your paycheck, it would lower your income accordingly.
Now presume a total compensation $15 minimum wage in which your only benefit is health insurance at a cost of $2 an hour ($344 in monthly premiums divided by 172 hours of full time work), bringing your federal taxable income to only $13 an hour. But your $2 an hour in premiums would come to more than 15.3 percent of your $13 an hour income, meaning that your premiums would not qualify as “affordable” under the 9.5 percent rule of the ACA.
Business lawyers might argue that the employer portion of the premium should not be counted toward the employee’s insurance premium costs, but that’s not how it would appear on the pay stub. Both portions of the premium would be listed as deductions to be subtracted from gross earnings. Thus any distinction between the two becomes purely fictional.
Throw in additional deductions under total compensation, and the employer’s ability to meet the ACA employer mandate becomes even less mathematically plausible, exposing the employer to up to $3,000 in annual penalties per employee. Like I said, I’m just not sure the total compensation camp has entirely thought this thing through.
But perhaps just as important to the larger discussion is how the ACA employer mandate rules once again expose total compensation for the lie it is: it simply does not pay $15 an hour. Thus any suggestion that total compensation proponents “aren’t arguing with the $15-an-hour goal,” is a lie as well.