Chelsea’s the first Premier League club to pay a living wage

Chelsea FC earned 318.4 million pounds during the financial year that ended on June 30, 2014. Using today’s conversion rate, that’s just under $500 million.

Also important about today? It’s when Chelsea announced it has been accredited as a Living Wage employer, claiming it is the first professional club in England to earn that distinction:

The Living Wage Foundation’s accreditation means that from January 2015, Chelsea will pay all directly employed members of staff the Living Wage as a minimum – currently £9.15 in London or £7.85 an hour outside of London. This rate is significantly higher than the current national minimum wage of £6.50 an hour.

Making $14.36 an hour in one of the most expensive cities in the world is firmly “better than nothing” territory, part of what makes it difficult to appreciate Chelsea’s self-congratulatory announcement. If CFC’s the first club in England to take this step, then it’s the least of the bad.

“We believe the move to the Living Wage underlines our commitment to ensuring that all our employees receive a fair rate of pay for their hard work and dedication,” team chairman Bruce Buck explained. “Quite simply it is the right thing to do.”

Is it? The living wage is defined as the minimum you need to cover the cost of living. Does that sound like something to be lauded, or more like a box you should quietly check out of basic obligation? Perhaps every business can’t afford to hit that mark, but one that brings in nearly $500 million a year? This is not, as Buck put it, a “significant achievement for the club.”

It is, however, a step forward, one that makes Chelsea’s actions far less objectionable than its selective means of contextualizing them. Instead, the real scrutiny should focus on other clubs, if not other businesses beyond soccer. Chelsea may be ahead of the game, even if this particular game is galling.

It’s pretty well established that, as far as addressing basic needs, the minimum wage is a joke; at least, it is to anybody who doesn’t hang their hat on pure subjective value theory. That’s true in most of England. It’s true in most of the U.S. It’s not a benchmark for comparison as much as a sad anachronism.

The living wage is a compromise: People should be able to pay for life’s basics with a full week’s worth. But if you’re a club raking in near $500 million per year, maybe kick in an era pound an hour? That’s a little closer to “the right thing to do.”

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