Leaf raker, babysitter, waitress, retail salesperson, lawyer. I have had many jobs. Each has had value. Often, the pay and benefits did not match the value. When the value of the job exceeded the remuneration, I looked to find the next job.
I think about this as I observe the trend to demand that the dignity and value of work be rewarded appropriately by legislative mandate (i.e. a minimum wage increase). I do understand the motive. Not everyone has the opportunity to move up the ladder as I did. That takes not just intellectual ability and grit, but also the assistance of others, the most important of which often is not even financial assistance. It’s the supporter who says, “don’t give up, you can do it.” It’s having role models that show you that you can do it too.
I think about this as I look forward to the coming Maryland legislative session in January (our legislators convene from January to April of each year to “do the people’s business” and then return to their “day jobs” for the rest of the year). The first order of business will be a vote attempting to override the Governor’s veto last May of mandatory paid sick leave legislation. Then, the business of law making will move on to new efforts to enact legislative minimum employment standards, most principally, the “fight for $15” (i.e. the union-backed push for a $15/hour minimum wage).
The problem is that most employers don’t deny sick leave and a “living wage” to their employees because they are greedy, skimming the cream off the top for themselves and giving the workers the dregs. Small business owners usually are middle class people who sometimes don’t pay themselves because they have to pay their vendors and employees. When you tell a restaurant owner that, if these state laws are enacted, she will have to pay someone who is absent, pay his replacement, AND that the pay will be $15 per hour (less the tip credit) she will look at you in distress (much as my friend who owns a stand-alone Greek restaurant looked at me last Saturday night). “I’m already struggling after the wage hike to $9.25 in July, and my customers won’t pay more. I don’t know what I’ll do.” (That minimum wage is $11.50 an hour in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, by the way.) That is the small employer’s dilemma.
Which brings me to my recent layover at the brand-new international terminal at Newark Airport. I was gob-smacked by the amazing choices of restaurants. I was also struck that they all had iPads at each counter seat and table. Diners place their orders on the iPad (cocktails and food) – which are immediately, efficiently, and accurately relayed to the kitchen – and a skeleton crew of food runners delivers the orders in the proper fashion (cocktails first, food later). You pay by swiping your credit card on the “square” affixed to the iPad. Then, your kids can play games on the iPad and you can go to the internet to read the latest news (don’t judge us – we usually talk at dinner, but not after nine hours on a plane). It was all efficient, but efficiency at the cost of many, many jobs. Each job, dignified, valuable as a matter of moral rightness, but priced out of existence when technology becomes the less costly choice.
That is why in January I, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, and other associations of business owners will be opposing a veto override and will be “fighting against $15.” We understand that the value of work goes beyond the wage itself. However, the value of the opportunity for a job and the opportunity (hopefully) to move up the ladder is jeopardized when the cost of legislative mandates exceed the dollar-value of human labor.