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Saturday, September 14, 2013


So word comes down the pike from fast food workers who are demanding their salary to be $15 an hour. I fully understand that it is impossible to feed a family on minimum wage. But the average age of a fast food employee is 28, which indicates to me that there are a lot of teenagers flipping burgers that want more money for the newest iPhone. I can’t find the percentage of fast food employees who are under 20, but it is to them I would like to dedicate this essay, and especially the following paragraph.
Suck it. Or suck it up. Take your pick.

Take your $8 an hour and be happy with it and go home and live under your parents’ roof. Be aware that you have to start somewhere, and if it is a gross, greasy job, then those are your dues. Pay ’em, shut up, put down your picket signs and go back to work.

I know I am sounding Limbaughesque with this, but I can’t help it. $15 an hour is outrageous hourly wage for someone who scoops fries into a bag and runs a cash register.  In a few years your job will be automated, so enjoy it while you can.

I started my first job at a restaurant when I was 15. I was put in front of a sink with a 25 pound block of frozen shrimp in it. As water ran over the shrimp, I dislodged them from the ice block, peeled them, which included removing that nasty black “mud vein” that runs down a shrimp’s back. I would throw the shells in a garbage can where all the uneaten food was scraped. The cook would take that can home with her and feed it to her pigs. The peeled shrimp I placed into a pail, and when all 25 pounds of shrimp were peeled and deveined, another block was put in front of me until that was done. By then the shrimp had been cooked in some meals, and plates and glasses were brought back for me to wash, rinse, and sanitize by hand in practically boiling hot water.

For this I was paid $1.35 an hour. And I was damned glad to have that job, because I was saving my money to buy a car when I turned 16, and this was the only legal way to get it.  I worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from 4 until the restaurant closed, and I got on my hands and knees with a spray bottle and a rag at the end of the night and cleaned the floor before I left. Some Sundays I worked a double shift, getting there at 7 in the morning to start working the brunch, which lasted until 2 pm. We’d have a couple hours off, and then come back and work from 4 to closing, which could be as late as 1 AM. And I came home smelling of dead shrimp and cigarettes every night, because smoking was allowed in the kitchen and in the restaurant.

And I was happy as a piss clam at high tide when I got promoted to busboy and didn’t have to work in that steamy hot kitchen so much. Plus I got 10% of the three waiters’ tips.

And a few months after I turned 16, I had saved a thousand dollars and bought a two-year-old Volkswagen Super Beetle with an 8-track player in it. And I was in heaven, because I could grab my keys and leave the House of Crazy Mother anytime I wanted, because I paid for my car insurance, gas, and maintenance. And after the restaurant was sold, I got a job in a nice, cool library shelving books, also for minimum wage, and I have been working ever since.

So, you teenagers flipping burgers for minimum wage, if you think your job is gross and disgusting, then there are plenty of other minimum wage jobs you can get. Go stock shelves in a drug store. Bag groceries. Be a cashier at Walmart or Target. Shelve books at a library. You are a teenager; you are not CEO material. Be happy you are able bodied and can work. Life is hard when you are a teenager, and even harder if you have to work and go to school and maintain a good GPA. Those are just facts of life. You are young and energetic. One day you will be old and weak if you’re lucky. Go out and expend that energy and realize that life isn’t fair. The CEO of your company is a billionaire, and you’re making minimum wage. Boo-hoo. The CEO could be nicer and give up some of his millions in bonus money to make your life easier. But with wealth comes greed, not responsibility, as some people tend to think. They more you get, the more you want. That is also a fact of life, unless you are lucky enough to work for a CEO who has a sense of social responsibility, and good luck finding that, unless you want to go work in China. See: Mr. Nice Guy

On the other hand, I empathize with low wage earning fast food workers who are older, and these are the only jobs they can find, and they are having trouble making ends meet. They have paid their dues over and over again and just can’t seem to get a break in life. Maybe they are worth $15 an hour just because they have somehow failed at the American Dream, for whatever reason. If I were King of the Minimum Wage, I would decree that anyone over 40 who is down on their luck and can only find work in the fast food industry, then they get $15 an hour and paid healthcare, while their younger constituents get minimum wage and no benefits. 

So if you’re in middle school or high school and are working to save for a car or the latest techno-gadget, go ye forth and flip. Go ye forth and scoop and bag and press buttons and make change for minimum wage and smile and thank the customer. It builds character. And when at long last that techno-gadget or pre-owned Mini Cooper is in your possession, you’ll enjoy it more than if it had been handed to you on a silver platter. Because it is a symbol, not a gift. And symbols like that are always more valuable than any gift that anyone will give you.

(photo credit:
Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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