C.J. Marshall: Significa: Minimum wage for minimum effort
A bill which would have increased the minimum wage throughout the country failed to pass in the Senate this week; which has prompted me to add my two cents to the situation.
Although I've made more than minimum wage for a number of years, it is a subject which had always remained a little - shall we say, delicate - to my heart; for reasons which I will now share with you.
My first experience with minimum wage came many, many years ago with my first full-time job. I was working at a fast-food restaurant and was promoted to the night maintenance shift. Although I had been part of the work crew for about a year, my promotion represented a major step up in my life, as I moved out of my parents' house into my own apartment - discovering the ups and downs of adulthood.
As the night maintenance man, I was responsible for cleaning the store after it closed for the night. This involved sweeping and mopping floor, cleaning and preparing the grills; washing the windows - the usual stuff.
I was also third shift, which of course meant I had to sleep during the day and work at night. This was explained to me when I accepted the job, and there was no unexpected surprises. And, because of my greater responsibilities, I was given a 20-cent an hour raise over the rest of the crew; most of whom were only making minimum wage.
At least for a few months. Because Congress decided to pass a bill back then which increased the minimum wage by 35 cents an hour. Everyone on the crew making minimum wage got a raise of 35 cents. Me, I got a 15-cent raise.
Now, as you probably expect, I went to the powers that be and asked about this little situation. When I pointed out that I was now making exactly the same amount of money per hour as all the other crew members - despite my increased responsibilities - I was told I was still getting a raise, and I should be happy with that.
Yeah, right. I've heard similar arguments over the years, and they've never impressed me. Like being told the fast food industry operates on such a slim profit margin the franchise just simply couldn't afford to raise my salary any higher. Trouble is, I figured that if the store had done the right thing and increased by salary by 35 cents an hour - as opposed to 15 cents - it would have cost the store an extra $8 per week. Something they could have easily absorbed, in my estimation. And, in case anyone questions this, there was only one other maintenance person in the store on the day shift; so being fair to both of us wouldn't have broken the budget.
At the time I was also told that if I wasn't satisfied with the situation, I could look for work elsewhere. I think that argument is always made by people who are making more than minimum wage and who are safely secure in their positions. At the time I had no real marketable skills, per se, and it being my first job there weren't really many alternative choices I could look into.
I'm sorry to say that the situation began to affect my outlook on the job at that point. Oh I continued to perform a full day's labor, but it got to the point where I steadfastly refused to do anything other than what was specifically required of me, and nothing further. And the powers that be did nothing to alleviate the situation. Like when daylight savings time began (we lose an hour, remember) and I had to bust my tail to make certain the store was in good shape when we opened. At the end of the shift, one of the assistant managers took my time card, and knocked off an hour because of the time shift. Yes, it's true I only worked 7 hours instead of 8, but as I said I really had to hustle that night to get done on time. I ask you, would it have really hurt anyone to have given me that "phantom" hour in exchange for the extra effort necessary to get my work done on time?
Well, things continued to deteriorate and I finally decided the best solution was continue my education by going back to college. When I put in my notice, the store manager - whom I did not get along with for various reasons - made no secret of the fact he was delighted I was leaving. However, I did have a revenge of sorts. Twice they hired people before I left as my replacement, twice I trained each of them one night, and twice each quit after the first day. The second time it happened the assistant manager demanded to know what I was doing to make people quit so fast. It neatly demonstrated to the powers that be that it's not so easy hiring for such a tough position - which was a dirty job, believe me - and expecting to get good help for minimum wage.
They didn't learn their lesson, of course. After I went back to college I would occasionally stop in when I returned home and - I swear - each time I saw a sign advertising for the night maintenance shift.
Nowadays of course, I'm hearing the same arguments that I've heard through the years concerning whether or not to raise the minimum wage. I'll leave most of them to the economists, because such things are tricky subjects, and often with no clear answers. But one thing I have found to always be consistent in the labor force is that you get what you pay for. Employers who consistently pay the lowest possible wage and begrudge every raise to their employees and squeeze every penny they can out of them are only going to retain workers of the lowest common denominator who will never help the business rise beyond a certain level. Or, to put it more simply: "You get what you pay for."