A messy food fight

Ten people were arrested yesterday on Mechanicsville Turnpike in Henrico County while protesting working conditions for fast-food industry employees. The arrests were among more than 700 nationwide as part of a movement called “Fight for $15” designed to call attention to the issue, as workers seek improved conditions, the right to unionize and $15-per-hour wages.

Local organizers said they expected protests and employee strikes at several area McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King restaurants, but there were no other reports of arrests aside from the 10 in Henrico, at the McDonald’s in the 2300 block of Mechanicsville Turnpike. Those 10 people each were charged with unlawful assembly and impeding the flow of traffic by sitting in the road.

Unfortunately, the method by which they chose to make their point was as misguided as their key demand.

Entry-level minimum-wage fast-food jobs are not glamorous. They demand long hours of physically grueling work in conditions that may be highly and consistently stressful, noisy and challenging. They (obviously) don’t pay much, either.

But guess what? That’s ok.

Such jobs can and do serve a meaningful purpose. Often they are filled by young, inexperienced workers who are just beginning their careers. In Henrico, there are more than 100 fast-foot restaurants that employ perhaps 2,000 or so entry-level workers. These jobs teach the value of hard work, the persistence necessary to work long hours in sometimes difficult situations, the importance of working well as part of a team, following direction and developing the skills necessary to advance. They provide perspective and a chance to learn. And for many, they serve as motivation to aspire to something more.

Several of those who protested in Henrico yesterday were quoted as saying that they simply can’t live on $7.25 an hour, can’t raise children or pay rent on that salary. This may be true – and unfortunate – but it doesn’t entitle them to higher pay.

A government-established minimum wage is necessary in order to set a baseline standard of expectations for employers – and, importantly, for employees. It’s not unlike the grading scales set by school systems that establish which scores constitute an “A,” which constitute a “B”. . . and which constitute an “F.”

But students who consistently receive Fs in school don’t usually petition the School Board for lower standards that will turn those scores into Ds or Cs – they either work harder to improve their grades, or they don’t and continue to receive Fs.

Those who are just starting out in minimum-wage jobs should take this to heart, work as hard as possible and seek ways to improve their appeal to employers. Those who have spent more than a few years working minimum-wage, entry-level jobs should ensure that they’re doing everything possible to advance professionally. They must ask themselves difficult questions:

• How did I get here?
• Why have I not been able to advance from here?
• Did I take full advantage of the public education afforded to me? If not, why not?
• How can I improve myself from this point forward?
• How hard am I wiling to work in pursuit of something better?
• Who is ultimately responsible for my current situation?

Fast food workers who are part of the Fight for $15 movement in other states have alleged that they’ve been mistreated. Lawsuits filed earlier this year claim that some McDonald's franchises in California, Michigan and New York engaged in illegal wage-theft practices, designed to keep their payroll costs at a certain level while manipulating the schedules and pay of their employees. 

Some McDonald's franchises in Michigan were accused of using software provided by the company's corporate officials that would send alerts to franchise owners when employee pay exceeded a specified level, according to a New York Times report in March. The owners or managers would respond by telling workers to clock out, take extended breaks or delay clocking back in for their next shifts (if they were already on break), the paper reported.

While that type of practice, if true, seems at best unfair and at worst illegal, the workers’ demand for $15 per hour is downright silly.

Protesting inappropriate working conditions – or suing as the result of such conditions – is one thing. Demanding pay that is more than twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for entry-level jobs is another entirely. It’s simply not logical.

Consider the ripple effect that would occur were this change to take place across the board. If entry-level cooks and dishwashers (who now are earning $8-$10 an hour) all suddenly began earning $15 an hour, what should shift supervisors make? What about part-time managers? Full-time managers? They’d all want raises too – and probably should receive them, unless management believed the entry level workers were more important than those who oversee them, operate those restaurants on a day-to-day basis and ensure that they are financially viable.

And if everyone got raises, what would happen to the prices paid by consumers?

That’s right: they’d increase. And we’d be right back where we started.

Corporate America does not "owe" its employees anything beyond equal opportunities to be employed and to advance, as well as fair and legal pay, regardless of gender, ethnicity or any other characteristic. Employers who discriminate or mistreat their employees should face legal action. But those who are following the law should not be bullied into providing raises for a select number of employees “just because.”

Fast-food restaurants – like all businesses – exist for loftier reasons than to provide handouts to their entry-level workers. Their goals are to deliver their products and services effectively and efficiently, make profits, employ people and expand. Employees who can help them accomplish these goals typically are rewarded through advancement. Those who cannot – or who do not bring any appreciable or unique skills to the table – typically do not advance.

Ultimately, we are each responsible for ourselves. We’d all like raises, too. But if we don’t bring unique value to our jobs – whatever they are – and don’t have skills that employers seek, we should take a look in the mirror first before demanding more.

Contact Citizen Publisher Tom Lappas at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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Henrico Business Bulletin Board

October 2017

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The Henrico County Police Division will provide rabies vaccines for dogs and cats from 9 a.m. to noon at the Western Government Center, 4301 E. Parham Road. Pet owners must register and pay at the cashier’s office in the Administration Building before seeing a veterinarian on the first level of the adjacent parking deck. Each vaccine costs $10 and must be paid in cash. A rabies tag and certificate of inoculation are included. Pets from all localities are welcome. Cats must be in carriers. Henrico dog licenses will be available for $10 for a one-year license and $15 for a three-year license. For details, call the Animal Protection Unit at (804) 727-8801. Full text

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