The Sad Reality: Wage Laws HURT
After going on a honey-do errand for my "starving" partner, who just couldn't live without a fast food burger or two after finally getting home from a few after work side jobs, I find myself yet again thinking about the sad realities of our current era.
After finding myself ordering an incredibly small amount of food that cost just under $20, I remarked to the restaurant manager in the drive thru window, that I remember working for the same company in 2002, when I could've gotten the same amount of food for just under $10.
The look on his face was disdainful.
He immediately started telling me about Ann initiative shortly after 2002, that required the state to review and raise minimum wage every year in the state of Washington, which meant that at least every two years, the restaurants had to raise their prices also. From there, he launched into a rant about how the recent jump in minimum wage to $15 a hour meant that not only did he have to Tatar prices, but that he also had to lay off more than half his staff in order to pay the other half. He talked about how he had several really hard workers who he believed could've gone far if they'd had enough time to build up they're skills, but he didn't have enough in his budget to keep most of them on. So now he's stuck with only the best of his staff, who he can't give any overtime to, but also can't give hardly any time off.
For anyone who hasn't managed a fast food restaurant, or another type of restaurant, this basically means that you end up over working your best employees, and yourself. The parent company only allows you a certain budget determined by your stores income, and out of that, you get your salary, your staffs pay, and your stores supplies, maintenance, emergency, and advertising needs. If at any point you spend more on employee pay, overtime, food, anything, you start losing money from your functional budget.
So as a restaurant manager in this situation, there's very few things you can do. You're not allowed to get overtime, no matter how many hours over your scheduled time that you work, so you basically have to fill in for every shift where you need an extra worker but can't afford one. You also petition your patent company to raise food prices, then go through a series of meetings trying to determine how high the parent company will let you raise them, which usually isn't much, and then you have to determine if your customers will pay that amount, as raising food costs won't help your business or your staff if you lose customers and the money that keeps your business going.
So after inserting yourself into the Labour schedule for as many as 90 hours a week, of which you only get paid for 45-50 hours, and after food prices have been raised as high as the local market will allow, you basically do you best not to go nuts as more chaos ensues.
First you watch your revenue go down in small amounts because of price raises, even though every min wage Tatar supporter PROMISED they'd be happy to pay an extra dollar for their burgers and fries if it meant a living wage for workers. Then you watch as your remaining staff gets burnt out, which edges you closer to overtime (which your budget can't afford) for other staff members who take over shifts for the workers who randomly quit, get sick, or fall behind. You start keeping stacks of applications for new staff around for when the next burnt out worker goes, and eventually your situation gets desperate enough that you start hiring any warm body that believes they can live up to the demand. You'd love the chance to interview and vet them more thoroughly, and get an idea of how reliable or skilled they are, but you're so busy working extra shifts amongst your mountain of managerial jobs, that you just don't have the time to do it right.
It was about this time in the conversation that the RM started talking about the automated cashier machines his parent company was offering to the franchisees. He said he had tried to avoid getting those machines because he believed they took over jobs he could be giving to people who needed work, but at this point, he needed to both be able to keep his franchise alive and to be able to have at least some time off for himself before his sanity burns out too. With just one machine, he could do the work or two or three employees, for less than the cost of one employee (which currently cost him $13/hr). By the time the wage is up to $15 per hour he's going to have to let even more people. With the words leaving his mouth, I could see the sheer panic come over his face, as he said he wasn't sure what he was going to do during rush hours.
Having been a fast food restaurant manager before myself, I know that look of terror all to well. Even if you can afford to automate all the ordering and money handing, there's no current way to automate the cooking, prepping, restocking, customer complaints, and other chaos. Your only resource is staff and despite what outsiders might think, trying to pump out hundreds of sandwiches and other food items, is no easy task, even when you've been doing it for decades and you can make every item better than you can wrap Xmas presents. There's also a great deal more to it than just stacking sauce, pickles, cheese, and meat. Sure, it might not brain surgery, but at least brain surgeons get a quiet, sterile, and mostly relaxed environment to work in, with only one customer at a time and every reason not to rush.
Fast food doesn't offer those luxuries. The staff and the customers are the life blood of the business. Without enough of both, the business falls.
Before the conversation ended, the disheveled GM looked at me and said, "You know, I totally understand wanting everyone to make a living wage, but I so many people only look at one aspect and think they know everything. Raising wages means raising food costs, firing staff and hiring way less, and it also means burning out staff and management at a much faster rate than before. What good does higher pay do for those who got laid off? Or those who get burned out? Or for everyone working their butts off, who I have to keep below a certain number of hours to avoid to many benefits we can't afford to pay on top of these new wages?"
As I pulled away from the window, I couldn't help but think about how much I agreed with what he had to say.
So many issues are politicized, mostly because politicians know they can get more votes if they work on issues that get voters all riled up. Then they make sure that most folks only get enough information to decide to side with the politicians, and then push for rash actions to be made, most of which either increase government power or create new governmental authority over various issues.
In this case, the decades long fight over min wage regulation (which was started by racists originally, to keep "privilege" alive and well) has reached an all time high, and it's already taking a heavy toll on the local economy. Yet voters and min wage activists often don't know the history or the true impact of government interference like this. They only know that they've been told something is good, that it'll "help" people, and that they should want it more than fresh air to breath.
And, like most issues of big brothers corrupt impact on our lives, the seen and unforseen consequences will be rationalized for decades before it finally comes out that it was such a horrible thing to do, and by then, most folks will be too complacent or shared to change anything, no matter how right out may be to do so.
Meanwhile, bigger and much more important human rights issues like black and immigrant citizens being unfairly targeted and killed by police (which is being militarized faster and faster these days), are basically being left to the wayside in favor of job killing politicized issues.
This is our sad reality right now.
I wonder what our descendants will think of our era in history when they study it hundreds of years from now. Will anything have changed? Will they think of us as immature, barbaric, and extremely stupid? Or will they think of us as children, who just didn't know any better, as we are often told to think of our ancestors?
I don't know, but I certainly hope I get to see things change for the better in my lifetime. We're supposed to be evolved. We're supposed to be free. We're supposed to be stewards to the earth, each other, and the next generation.
Right now, I'd say we're not doing a very good job at any of it.