That’s sweat of a poor worker on your pizza

Contributing WriterFebruary 15, 2014 

Politicians who oppose raising the minimum wage have inadvertently made me see the greater wisdom of lowering the minimum wage.

If raising the minimum wage does in fact reduce the number of minimum-wage jobs, as we are told, then lowering the minimum wage should increase the number of minimum-wage jobs. The more you lower the minimum wage, the more jobs you produce.

Granted, lowering the minimum wage might fall rather harshly on such workers, producing a certain amount of malnutrition. But lowering wages below present levels is an essential sacrifice applied entirely to people who are too weak politically to fight back against the rest of us.

Best of all, lowering the minimum wage could lower the price of burgers, tacos and pizzas, the principal diet of so many of us. Opponents of a higher minimum wage kindly point out that raising the minimum wage would drive up the cost of our favorite fast foods. That’s because the bosses of those workers feel compelled to pass on any increased cost of employee wages to customers like you and me.

If a higher minimum wage would kill a lot of the current minimum-wage jobs in our society, then cutting the minimum wage in half should double the number of minimum-wage jobs.

I remember the days I worked in restaurants for minimum wage. I was a busboy, and that doesn’t mean I was a boy driving a bus. No, I was busing dishes. My job was taking dirty dishes to the kitchen for washing and bringing clean dishes to the work stations of the waitresses. And while management was not likely to give a minimum-wage worker a raise, waitresses would pitch in a little extra cash from their tips if you kept their stations stocked.

That made it possible for waitresses to give the best service to their customers. And good service increases the size of the tips. So the waitresses would give me a modest but generous increase in pay, even if nobody else would.

When it came to waitresses, I scratched their backs and they scratched mine. That was my favorite part of restaurant work. You haven’t lived if you have never scratched the back of a waitress.

I have never worked as hard since as I did in those restaurants. You’re on a dead run for most of your shift, carrying heavy trays of dishes, racing through the high humidity and greasy air of a steaming kitchen.

Minimum-wage jobs were the hardest I ever did, and, strangely enough, the more I got paid in later life, the easier the job.

I really shouldn’t get paid for writing. That’s not work. That’s recreation. In fact, if this were an ethical world, the lowest-paid workers would be those with the most enjoyable work – writers, movie stars, CEOs, major league baseball players, members of Congress, fishing guides and chocolate tasters.

The highest-paid people should be garbage collectors, chicken pluckers, some preachers and waitresses, not to mention mothers of small children.

Abraham Lincoln understood what is going on when you work people like slaves and pay them dirt. He remembered a powerful biblical admonition. “It may seem strange,” Lincoln said, “that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.”

Minimum wage involves something like that. When we who are better paid are so fat and sassy that others must work for a pittance until the sweat runs down their faces, then we are stealing from the poor.

Don’t think of raises in the minimum wage merely as simple justice. Think of them as a new emancipation.

Bill Hall can be contacted at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.

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