Friday, April 3, 2015

What should minimum wage be, & would I take the job no matter what?

As much as I want to believe I support the concept of people who actually have to work for a living, I have to confess to feeling a little squeamish about the ongoing battle to bolster the minimum wage for fast food workers.

Yes, I can recall the time in my life (about three decades ago) when I worked such jobs – and I can recall an era when my take-home pay was based off a $3.30 hourly rate.

THAT WAS THE minimum wage back in the early-to-mid 1980s when I was in high school and college (usually trying to concoct a stash of cash so that when I went back to campus in the fall, I’d have some money to be able to subsist on.

Life is more than just classes and paying those fees for books. The fact that I had a memorable college experience was due to the trash work I did back then – literally handling the types of jobs at time that led me to smell like assorted cold cuts and be permanently repulsed by the sight and texture of head cheese.

I can recall working at a Subway sandwich franchise, then later in a delicatessen – learning how to achieve the perfectly-sliced piece of genoa salami – six or eight of which go with a nice slice of cheese to make a quickie sandwich that can tide over one’s appetite.

I did that for my $3.30 per hour, which could come to about $200 every couple of weeks. Which makes me fortunate that I didn’t have to rely on such a low income to actually cover all my life’s daily expenses.

SO WHEN I learn that the minimum wage in Illinois has reached levels of $8.25 (a dollar more than the federally-mandated level and also the minimum wage that scut work employees for Indiana-based companies get) and that there are people who want to raise it to between $10 and $13 per hour, I almost get envious.

It’s almost enough to make me wish I could have got that kind of money back when I had to resort to such work. Then I remember the kind of tedious, mind-numbing labor I had to do to get that money, and I feel fortunate that I’m not in a position where I have to do such labor.

These thoughts have popped into my head in recent days in learning that some employees of McDonalds (a company I never worked for, but I had one cousin who literally wore those polyester jump suit-like outfits they wore back in the day while asking, “Do you want fries with that?”) are getting $1 per hour raises.

I’m not going to begrudge anybody who can get a little more money, since even at the higher rate, nobody is going to get rich being a grill operator at McDonalds. Not unless you can pull off the Willie Wilson (remember him, the former mayoral candidate) saga of scraping together your pennies and buying a franchise of your own.

ACTUALLY, IT’S ONLY going to be the McDonald’s employees at the company-owned stores who get the higher pay rates. Those who work at franchises that are privately-owned (which are the bulk of them) will continue to get their current rate of pay.

But the idea that someone trying to make sure they don’t burn themselves from the oil of frying the French fries pulling in nearly $10 back when I would have been paid $3.30 for the same work seems a bit surreal.

Then again, I’m old enough to remember when picking up the two major newspapers meant plunking down two quarters – NOT the $2.50 it costs now for anyone who still feels compelled to pick them both up!

Somehow, it sounds like an overpay – even though like I already wrote, I wouldn’t trade places with those workers to get their higher rate of money.

IT MAKES ME feel good that the closest I come to such fast food fare is when I stop off at a Subway if I have to eat on the run because I have some sort of news-related assignment somewhere.

I developed my taste for the “spicy Italian” sandwich back when I learned to make them with 10 slices of genoa salami and 12 slices of pepperoni per foot-long sandwich while raking in the big bucks that went along with the free sandwich I was permitted to make myself each shift I worked.


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