July 25, 2015

My Middle-Aged White Lady Perspective: $15/hour

So you've all heard by now that New York's Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, called for a Wage Board to rubber stamp the idea that fast food workers deserve to make $15 per hour. Eventually. Not right now, of course, when they're struggling making less than a living wage, but later -- 2018 in New York City, and 2021 across the rest of the state. Said rubber stamp was applied, and without more than three or six years of further ado, wages will go up for folks who work in places food is paid for before it's eaten, as long as the establishment meets the requirements.

From my middle-aged white lady perspective, this is a ridiculous idea, on several fronts.

(1) How many fast food workers are people "trying to raise a family" on minimum wage? I suspect there are some, and we've of course seen them on news stories about the wage hike, but most folks I see working in these restaurants are teenagers, not adults. High schoolers, not grandmas and grandpas. That may be a factor of where I live (Syracuse) or how infrequently I go to Arby's, McDonald's, Burger King, or Dunkin' Donuts, but generally my experience is, the person wearing the manager or supervisor name tag is the only 'adult' behind the counter. Do high school juniors really deserve to make as much as college graduates?

(2) If the entry level job pays $15, how much will these businesses have to raise the salaries of the assistant shift supervisors? Shift supervisors? Store managers? District managers? And how much will that cut further into the restaurant's profitability or even ability to survive?

(3) Have we no plans to grow the economy and the job market in New York, that we are anticipating people will still be in the same fast good positions three or six years out? And have we no plans to reduce the cost of living here in the Empire State, to reduce government mandates and taxes and wasteful spending, the things that would make all salaries last longer, leaving arbitrary wage increases as our best option? And if that's the best answer today, what will it be six years from now? Will a 'living wage' be $20 then?

(4) What makes fast food workers special, compared to, say, substitute teachers? Home care workers? Cashiers? Stock boys at grocery stores? Retail employees? Do we really value someone who puts donuts in a box more than someone who teaches or cares for the young, the elderly, the disabled?  Is that who we want to be here in the great state of New York?

(5) Why would we want to devalue experience and education?  Some time ago, I posed the question on how we can double or significantly increase the minimum wage without making the same adjustments in all other wages, which are 'commensurate with experience' or require college degrees, or both.

(6) Mandating $15/hour doesn't only raise the hourly rate of pay for workers. It also raises the cost of benefits for the company; it raises the taxes that the businesses pay; and it obviously will raise the cost of the food sold at the restaurant. Those increased costs will be passed on to consumers, including all of those folks who are NOT getting a massive, government-directed raise.

(7) The new wage comes without any expectation of increased productivity or service; it only brings added cost to the businesses and their customers.

I'm old enough, and fortunate enough, to have spent my adult life working at jobs where there was incentive to work harder, to do more, to go the extra mile on behalf of my employer or our customers. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be able to advance, to take on added responsibilities and to be financially rewarded for doing that.

I understand that not everyone has that chance today. I get that. But randomly eliminating that opportunity because it's been priced out of the market by a Governor who's pandering for support, money and votes (or in my opinion, lamenting that he hasn't been more like his late father and trying to make amends), serves us how? Randomly deciding that only a portion of the labor force in New York is, by stroke of a pen, suddenly worthy of a 60 - 70% salary increase serves us how?

It is, on its face, nothing but a poorly conceived government-ordered handout that will not solve the income gap, or reduce income inequality. It is intended to replace one government benefit (SNAP and other assistance paid to low-wage earners), but as designed may actually end up increasing government benefits for the cheering workers we saw on television when this was announced.

The next time you're in your local Panera Bread, look around for the tablet computers where you can order and pay for your food, without having to talk with a cashier. Or, when you're sitting at your table after doing your own ordering, waiting for your food to be brought out, take a look at the little sign on the wall advising that you could have ordered from your table - no need to even stand at a tablet. That's right - you can grab your table first, pull out your smart phone, place your order and pay, and then go back to playing Words with Friends without ever batting an eyelash.

Those tablets? They don't call in sick; they don't require 30 percent or more in benefits overhead; they don't costs the business increased payroll taxes; and they government can't raise their salary.  I'm willing to bet we'll see a lot more of those, and fewer fast food workers, working fewer hours, by the time the vaunted $15 hourly wage is in place.

And the other big reason? Because the people who pushed for the huge pay increase for fast food workers are not regular customers of fast food restaurants. I maintain that they should be, particularly when full increase finally goes into effect, because of that whole 'walk the talk' thing. You know, kinda like Donald Trump not liking that his ties and shirts were made in China and complaining about the quality and that China is raping America, but continuing to have his line of branded items made in China anyway. Walk the talk, folks.

I'll give a 2021 fast food hour's pay to the first person who gets a shot of the Governor and Sandra Lee chowing down on a Brown Sugar Bacon BLT.