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Two corporate titans throw employee relations thunderbolts

As the national politics of income inequality and the minimum wage grind on, two private sector leaders are the latest to take action in these social progress/good business initiatives.

This week, Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase and Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, stepped up to the issues boldly.

In a New York Times op-ed, Mr. Dimon laid out the business-in-society case for higher wages in his company — and, implicitly, well beyond: “Wage stagnation. Income inequality. A lack of quality education. Insufficient training and skills development … Too many people are not getting a fair opportunity to get ahead. We must find a way to help them move up the economic ladder and everyone — business, government and non profits needs to play a role …

“A pay increase is the right thing to do. Wages for many Americans have gone nowhere for too long … And it’s good for our company, helping us to attract and retain talented people in a competitive involvement.”

Mr. Dimon outlined JPMorgan Chase plans to increase its minimum pay for 18,000 workers from $12 to $16.50 an hour over the next three years. And he outlined the importance of the company’s progressive benefits and training as well as its investments in career-focused education. 

For its part, Starbucks this week announced plans to give pay increases of at least 5% to all of its U.S. store workers and managers. It is also offering an improved process for employees selecting health care plans and adjusting its stock options program, doubling the award given to workers who stay with the company for two years.

In a letter to employees, CEO Schultz said that these initiatives were meant to “ensure Starbucks remains a retail employer of choice.” The new policies reflect the company’s intention to be a pioneer in workplace issues; in 2014, it established a program supporting tuition for fulltime and part-time workers to get an online college degree and last year it held forums on diversity issues.

Mr. Dimon’s extrapolation of such private sector initiatives is worth pondering: “It is true that some businesses cannot afford to raise wages right now. But every business can do its part through whatever ways work best for it and its community.”