Saturday, August 3, 2013

Would you like fries with that?

The topic du jour on NPR and other news media seems to be fast food workers having the gall to strike for higher wages. To say the stupid runs deep in most of the discussions would be an understatement. What amuses me no end is the suggestion that the folks working at McDonald's and other grease pits should simply acquire additional technical skills and move on up the career ladder. So who's going to serve the burgers once the current crew is gone? And why should the new employees be any more willing to work for shit wages than the folks assembling the Whoppers and Thickburgers are now?

The harsh reality is that we live in a service economy. One reason the average age of a fast food employee is 28 is that the fastest growing job sectors are the ones at the bottom of the economic scale: burger flippers, nursing home attendants, hotel maids, discount store cashiers. There aren't enough jobs to go around for the people with the four year degrees now, so what kind of miracle is supposed to occur to permit the workers at the bottom of the economic and social hierarchy to move up? We've all been hearing the stories for years, the ones about recent college grads discovering they've incurred thousands of dollars of student loan debt and now can't find a job that actually requires a college degree or that pays enough to live on. If they ever put down their smart phones and I-pads long enough to figure out just how thoroughly they've been screwed by society's lies, there'll be riots in the streets.

Further, the people doing those jobs work damn hard for the pittance of a wage they do collect. Isn't hard work supposed to result in a financial reward? Why is it that the jobs that society absolutely needs -- all the service workers of various types, from fry cooks to garbage collectors -- are the jobs that garner the least respect? Over and over we get to hear that entry level jobs, the ones that don't require much in the way of training, shouldn't pay decent wages. Neither should any job that requires physical exertion or that results in your hands getting dirty. If it doesn't require multiple years of education or if you're standing while you do it instead of sitting at a desk it's not a job that the elitists think is worth doing. There is a remarkable amount of hostility out there towards the idea that the guys working at a tire shop should make as much as the dudes selling you life insurance, all of which seems to be premised on the the classic white collar vs blue collar distinction. Doesn't matter how hard you work, if at some point doing the work day you're reaching for the GOJO, then your job isn't valued by the chattering class.

Given that there are businesses out there in almost every sector of the economy that do pay their employees decent wages and still manage to make a profit, it seems rather self-evident that the businesses that persist in paying low wages are motivated more by pathological greed than by necessity.

The cartoon is from the Virginia Tech newspaper, The Collegiate Times, and is now 20 years old. Some things never change.


  1. A lot of it comes down to those that shower in the morning before work look down at those that shower after their day's work.

  2. If they get better wages I won't be able to get buck burgers at Wendy's anymore.

    Never worked in one of those places myself. The garbage men here make decent wages.

  3. The dollar menu items wouldn't disappear. They're the loss leaders the fast food joints use to suck people into the store.

  4. This argument for slave wages (they should get a college degree, or work their way up, or otherwise "improve themselves") has always driven me nuts, too. A person should be able to make a living wage if they are working 40 hours per week. Period. No matter what work they are doing. They should not need to supplement their wages with food stamps and medicare and a host of other government services. It really irks me that I have to pay taxes to support these hard working persons, when the companies who are profiting from their labor should be the ones paying them decent wages instead, so that they don't need the government programs!! What it feels like, to me, is that I am paying higher taxes to support the minimum wage workers so that a bunch of corporate fat cats can make ever higher profits and hire attorneys and lobbyists and tax accountatns to avoid all of their tax obligations entirely. Ugh.

    And I hate the lower value our society places on the things we need the very most. We would all suffer horribly and immediately if the garbage service went away tomorrow. We'd have to haul our own garbage to the dump, and the traffic jams there would be awful (especially in a big city) with the hundreds or thousands or millions of others waiting there to drop off their garbage. But if we couldn't ever hire another tax accountant, most of us would muddle through our taxes one way or another.... so why do we value tax accountants so much more (with wages that are three, five, ten times higher, or more, per hour) than garbage collectors? It makes no sense, really.

  5. Why blame the companies? If America had decent labour legislation and decent health care, a great deal of the problem would be solved.

  6. Is it blaming the companies to call their management out for being greedy? Every corporate board does have a responsibility to shareholders to ensure the company is profitable, but how much profit is enough? And whatever happened to the notion that the people who make that profit possible (the workers) deserve fair compensation for their efforts?


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