Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

Have a burger, support a worker


Waukesha Freeman Opinion Page A6 12/5/2013

Have a burger, support a worker 

Don’t give in to SEIU protesters

freemanFast-food workers around the country will be encouraged by the Service Employees International Union’s front organizations to walk off their jobs today to demand $15 per hour, over double the current minimum wage of $7.25/hour. The workers won’t get it, but they will get the honor of risking their jobs for someone else’s political agenda.

What the union front groups fail to tell the workers is that if they do walk off their jobs, they are not the members of a union and they will not have union protections. Martyrdom for the SEIU may be its own reward but it won’t pay the bills.

Many years ago, too many now, I worked for a fast-food restaurant while in high school. I was saving my money to pay for a trip to Israel.

I didn’t pick the job because I liked the food (I didn’t) or because the uniforms were cool (they weren’t). I picked the job because they were the ones willing to hire someone who never held a job before and had no skills.

The work wasn’t particularly fun. It wasn’t mentally challenging, other than counting change after remembering to ask customers if they wanted french fries.

The job taught me the “soft skills” of working. I learned how to get along with people I did not like, including my boss. I learned to show up on time. I learned how to deal with the public.

I also learned I didn’t want to work in fast food.

Like so many Americans, nearly one in three according to National Restaurant Association Chairman Phil Hickey, the job was a starting point on the road to life. It never occurred to me to make a life’s work of being a cashier and fry cook. It certainly never occurred to me to try to raise a family of four working at a job that only required me to show up on time.

I’m not saying the work was easy. Far from it. But almost any 16-year-old kid could do it.

It never occurred to me to want to join a union. Nor did it ever occur to me to demand a “living wage” for the work. It was the entryway to the world of work, and I benefited in the long term.

Raising the minimum hourly wage to $15 per hour would be devastating to these entry-level positions. Already, the MacIver Institute calculated that over 7,100 jobs have been eliminated since 2005 due to the current minimum wage.

Imagine the effect on low-end employment of doubling the minimum wage. Imagine the impact on teens looking for their first jobs in the Obama economy who discover restaurants are scaling back operations because they can’t afford to pay their workforce. Imagine the family member looking for some part-time income to supplement the household income who discovers automated kiosks are replacing many fast-food jobs to save money, just like McDonald’s in Europe.

What comfort will a $15 minimum wage be for those who find themselves shut out of those jobs?

We should wonder, why $15 an hour? President Barack Obama is willing to settle for $10. Does that make him a heartless Grinch?

But why not make the jump to $22.00 per hour, as suggested by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts? Or why not raise it to $24.50 per hour, the level Raise Up MKE says is necessary to raise a child in Milwaukee?

Because we know what the devastating impact would be to small businesses, and we know what the ripple effect will be throughout the private sector. We know that the raise in the minimum wage will hurt those the “strikers” are claiming to be helping.

So when you see the SEIU-organized protests at your favorite fast-food restaurant, ignore your diet for one day. Treat yourself to your favorite combo meal while knowing you’re doing more good for the workers inside than the protesters ever will.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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