As my late father would say, "There is a lot of truth in that song," and he would be right. The world Tennessee Ernie Ford was singing about was one in which the company owned your residence and owned the store where you made all of your purchases. The company paid your salary. If you lost you job ,you literally lost everything because you could not live in company housing if you were not employed by the company.
In 1880s Pullman built a company town just outside of Chicago. All employees were required to live in the town and rent living quarters from Pullman, even if they could find less expensive accommodations elsewhere. Employees were paid in scrip, which could be exchanged for goods at the company store. If the company did not want you to have something, they just would not stock. Coal companies, timber operations and other industries followed suit and built company towns in remote areas across the company.
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A company town could in some cases be considered a form of paternalism, social engineering through which employers control their workers by forcing their ideals upon their employees. At the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century, paternalism was seen by corporate America as a moral responsibility or a religious obligation, which would both advance society and further their business interests. Sound familiar?
If it doesn't it should, because it is exactly what Hobby Lobby and various other so-called "Christian" corporations are attempting to do.
As an employee, a worker provides labor for a set number of hours per week. For that work, an employee is provided compensation. Some of that compensation comes in the form of an hourly wage, some of that is in a benefits package. In most cases an employee's wages are reduced to pay for benefits such as health care, 401k plan and, in rare cases these days, a pension plan. There is also an employee share that is paid towards many benefits. So not only has an employee's hourly wage been reduced to pay for benefits, the employee also has to pay a portion of their wages in order to receive their benefits.
Once an employee provides labor, that worker should be the one that determines how said compensation should be spent. Health insurance, for better or worse, is compensation for labor provided. What the Hobby Lobby decision has done has taken us back to a time when company towns existed and employees were indebted to the company store. No corporation, no business owner, no boss, has the right to tell anyone what to do with the wages and benefits they have earned.
Company towns started to die out in the 1920s with the advent of affordable transportation. However, lessons about how bad they could be were many. In Pullman's case, when demand for their product dipped, the company cut wages; however, they did not lower the rents for company housing that all employees were required to live in, nor did the company lower the price of goods available in the company store, which resulted in the Pullman Strike of 1894.
Corporate America and five male members of the U.S. Supreme Court are poor students of history. We have been down this road once before, and corporate America's social experiments failed before and they will fail again. As recently as 2008, retail giant Walmart was paying employees in Mexico in company script that could only be used for merchandise purchased at Walmart. The only reason the company stopped using scrip is because the Mexican Supreme Court ruled against Walmart. Think about that for a minute - Walmart actually tried to pay its employees with a modern-day scrip that could only be used at the company store. If Walmart could get away with it, you know they would try it here.
If Hobby Lobby or any other corporation has a "moral" issue with providing health care to its female employees, then maybe they should stop providing health insurance and raise their employee's wages to compensate for that benefit being removed from the compensation package. Of course if they, or any other American corporation, stopped providing health insurance, I can promise you that you will not see wages raised. In Hobby Lobby's case, this is all about the corporate owners forcing their belief system onto their employees by telling the employee how and what their compensation can be spent on.
And who's to say what's next? Will Hobby Lobby fire a woman because she used the wages she earned to have an abortion?