Dear readers: I am writing this as a response to the conservative author, Matt Walsh, for his insensitive and unrealistic article about raising food service workers’ wages.
Now, before I start, let me state the following: I’ve worked in food service for over thirteen years, and I think it’s safe to say that this is what I do; this is what I am really good at; and it is because I have spent so much time and service in this industry that I feel qualified to say that Matt Walsh clearly does not understand the problem. To elucidate, I have some facts for you to consider:
Fact: higher education isn’t for everyone, and attaining it is unnecessarily costly.
Fact: not all food service workers make standard hourly wages: many make less than half of state minimum wage, and are expected to make up the difference in tips. (Depending on where you work, you may never make up the difference.)
Fact: plenty of people start families early, whether planned or unplanned; it’s their choice to make, and it’s not our place to judge.
Fact: there is no such thing as a stepping-stone job: there are those who, like me, will make something of a career out of this line of work; but everybody else will take whatever jobs are hiring and/or for which they are qualified. (This is most especially true during recessions, where many employees’ only other options are receiving financial treatments from family, friends, payday loan sharks or, God-forbid, the state.)
Fact: because food service workers do tend to make shoddy wages, many employees receive state assistance, and they still do not live even close to comfortably.
Fact: in the restaurant industry, it is common practice to hire predominantly part-time workers, which disqualifies many employees from working over-time, or receiving many of the benefits that the companies advertise; as a result, many employees work two or more jobs just to pay their bills, yet will never receive compensation for working over forty hours.
Fact: no one is saying that the occupations the author listed off (such as those of teachers, emergency medical technicians, police officers, dental assistants, etc.) should be equivalent in pay to food service workers. (Surely their salaries are over-due for a pay raise, too!)
Fact: it may be difficult for small business to afford to make such wage adjustments, but larger businesses have no excuse, if and when the laws support those changes.
So, let me be frank: if the Capitalist whores who call themselves “job creators” would stop sending jobs overseas, then perhaps many of us in the food service industry would seek training in those other lines of work, when they are once again available. As it is, our malefactors have out-sourced American labour, and taken advantage of poor countries and exploited their labour markets, with their piss-poor wage laws, and their gross lack of health and safety standards. And this Trans-Pacific Partnership bill will only make matters worse.
Now, it is true that there is more value in skilled labour than food service; but we are, predominately, a service-based economy and, as a result, we’re all struggling to get by. And it’s not our fault, either; it’s just the nature of capitalism: an ideology that has no moral imperative except to grow, grow, grow. Capitalism does not value human life; humans are just a tolerated means to an end. Capitalism does not acknowledge the social consequences of its actions, and it flatly refuses to make amends for the damage it has done.
That said, let’s walk a quarter of a mile through a scenario, many aspects of which we all share in this line of work.
Let’s say you’re a stay at home wife, and mother whose husband just up and died on you. Up until now, your husband was, and had always been, the sole source of income in your household, and he made just enough for you all to live bearably mostly.
So here you are: you have no skills outside of cooking and cleaning, possibly thrifty spending habits, and child-rearing; and now you have to go out and find work. You’re thirty-years old, you have three children, you don’t have time to go back to school; but you absolutely need to get out there and find a job. Anyway, at your age, the probability of you receiving higher education gets slimmer with each passing day. So you get a job, flipping burgers at McDonald’s, at minimum wage.
It’s been a year now. You work hard—harder than some, but just as hard as most—helping to generate thousands of dollars in revenue for the company, every shift, but haven’t gotten even a five-cent increase since you started.
You know that you’ll probably be doing this the rest of your life because 1. this is the only job you really know and, 2. the older you get, the harder it is to find work outside of food service, and 3. by the time you’re old enough to qualify for social security, social security will have already run out.
So you stick with Mickey D’s, but you still try to find other work, especially during the seasons when everyone’s cutting hours. The problem is, with your lack of skills, you don’t have many options outside of food service, and those you do have are still just minimum wage-paying service jobs.
Meanwhile, you’re not just living by yourself, and you have three mouths to feed for another twelve years, with the oldest; fifteen for the youngest. And, of course, you know there’s not going to be any money in their college funds; as you already cashed out all of your savings, early on, just to pay rent.
Suffice to say, your story may not have a happy ending. You may well die alone, and in poverty, and with nothing to show for a lifetime of misery.
Matt Walsh would probably tell you to “suck it up”, and that it’s “just a rung on the ladder”. But then, perhaps he is unaware that not everyone gets to climb the same ladders, or that many of them don’t go up that high. Nor that there are still those few who reach up, grasping for that which is not there; as their toes tremble and their knees buckle, and they try not to fall from their precarious position, perched atop a slippery stool.