What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Handholding. If you’re a “professional” well into middle age and need constant hand holding and reassurance, perhaps you’ve got into the wrong career field. I don’t have the time or inclination to sooth your forehead with a cool rag and assure you that everything really will be alright. You might be the most important player in your own drama, but I can promise you’re not carrying enough rank or influence to convince me to give much of a shit before I write you off as a whiny sonofabitch and consign your future efforts to the ever growing file of received, but unread email.

2. $15 an hour. Want $15 an hour, you can start by doing a good job to begin with. The last three times I’ve been through a particular fast food joint they’ve gotten the order wrong – wrong size, wrong item, and then the last time, the whole order, fries included, dumped loose into the bag. I went in to complain about that last one. The manager looked like she couldn’t be bothered, her blank stare clearly not comprehending why I wasn’t satisfied. Pay rates should, in part, reflect the level of difficulty of the job and the quality with which it is performed. Why anyone expects a 100% raise for what seems to be an increasingly abysmal level of service is well and truly beyond me. Maybe think about earning that raise, you’d be amazed how good it feels to have a little self respect instead of getting something for nothing.

3. Interest rates. Mortgage interest rates are bumping along towards or at historic lows. They currently make the first mortgage I got 20+ years ago look almost usurious by comparison. The problem is mostly that the rates are low enough now that it’s starting to tempt me towards refinancing the mortgage on the ol’ homestead. Without fully running the numbers, I’ve got to think there are a few dollars to be saved if I can drop my rate a couple quarters of a percent. And that’s when I start to remember the absolute rage-inducing process that accompanies mortgage refinancing… and I’m left wondering if any kind of savings is really worth going through it unnecessarily. I’ll be off to the next place well before I pay off the note on the current house. The less crazy making course of action may well be keeping what’s already a respectably low interest rate and just ignoring the promise of a few less dollars flowing out every month, tempting though it is.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Surprise meetings. Some things happen without any warning – earthquakes, tornados, someone punching you in the throat for being stupid – all things that could theoretically happen out of nowhere. What shouldn’t happen out of nowhere is calling someone out of the blue after sitting on the material they gave you a month ago to tell them they have four hours to make a shit ton of changes and present that information to the Grand High Host of the Everlasting Knowitall. If you’ve had something for a month and just getting around to telling someone you’re going to need it completely changed later that day, it’s not a “no notice event,” you’re just a douchebag.

2. Fast food strikes. I flipped burgers for $4.15 an hour. When I see on the news that the “me” of today think they deserve $15 an hour for doing that job, I mostly just roll my eyes. When I hear they’re going to take the day to picket their employer demanding $15 and hour and a union, well, I nearly fall down laughing. In the 5 years I was associated with the burger flipping segment of the economy, I never once contemplated the value of my efforts being worth anything close to $15 an hour. The idea of signing up for Burger Flippers and Fry Cooks Local #209 never even crossed my mind. Unless you’re looking at a management track or life in corporate, I’d not recommend considering McDonald’s or its ilk as a long term career opportunity. We should be incentivizing people to move up and out of minimum wage jobs as quickly as possible, not raising the wage so it’s considered just another “lifestyle choice.”

3. Peanut Butter Jelly Time. I’m almost 36 years old and just had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of sugar free kool-aid for dinner. There are rare occasions when I really think I suck at being an adult. This would be one of those occasions.

Bare minimum…

The year was 1994, or approximately the end of the last ice age. I was 16 years old, worked 20 hours a week and McDonald’s, and minimum wage was $4.25 an hour. Flash forward to 1998. I was 20, worked about 16 hours a week as a student dispatcher, and made $5.15 an hour. Jump two years into the future. I was 22, worked 40 hours a week as a first year teacher and made $15.38 an hour. Climb into the Way Back Machine for one more ride to 2008. I was 30 years old, with an undergraduate degree and an MBA, working for Uncle Sam, and making a multiple of $15 an hour.

So what’s my point? Nothing much other than giving you a little background and assuring you that when I say working in fast food and making minimum wage sucks, that it’s a situation I know a little something about. It sucks a lot. As someone who cleaned grease traps, unloaded truckloads of frozen foods, and filtered the fryers, I’m uniquely postured to say that with a degree of authority. Although the job sucks, I can’t bring myself to see that it sucks badly enough to justify paying basically the same wage I made as a first year teacher. After all, that job sucks for a whole different list of reasons… and not just that, it requires a 4-year degree, testing, certification, and a relatively clean criminal background check. Yes, dare I say it, teaching is more important work than flipping burgers and the compensation should be commensurate with that.

There is nothing in my experience of working minimum wage jobs that tells me anyone should make $15 an hour based on the work’s level of difficulty. Of course level of difficulty really isn’t the argument. In all the cases I’ve heard, the reason is simply that they should make $15 an hour because they need more money. I hear ya, brothers and sisters. I need more money too. But you see, I never “just” worked my part time minimum wage job and expected it to be enough to get by. I cut grass in the summers and shoveled snow in the winters. I collected aluminum cans and cashed them in for pennies. That was all side work on top being a pretty successful full time student and on top of my part time job. Even now that I’m outside that $15 an hour range, I’m not above picking up cans from the side of the road, or taking on an occasional side job, or writing a damned book about my experiences and selling it online.

Let’s be brutally honest, there aren’t many of us who are working as hard as our grandparents did. I’ve never come out of deep mine after eight hours underground coated in coal dust. My young life wasn’t put on hold to take four years off to go liberate Europe. I’m not up at 4AM to milk the cows. I’ll bet most of the fast food workers who think they need $15 an hour aren’t any of these things either. And for the record, I’m not saying they should be doing those things. All I’m saying is that what I really want to see is what they’re doing to improve their employment options beyond holding up a sign and demanding more money. Not everyone needs to go to college and get a job wearing a tie, but if you’re strolling around waiting for your CEO to pay you more just because you think it’s what you deserve, well, I hope you’re dressed warm because you’re in for a long wait.

Maybe you can’t put a value on a human life, but the market can damned sure put a value on the work we do with the life we’re given. It’s up to each of us to maximize what our labor is worth… and if you personally find it worth $15 an hour, I’d recommend you set your sights a little higher than grill jockey at the local greasy spoon.

Fast food, but not really…

There was a time in my life before I found myself fully entrenched in the middle of the organizational quagmire that is the federal bureaucracy. During that time, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, one of the many jobs I had was flipping burgers at the local McDonald’s. There’s a better than average chance I worked there with some of the people reading this post. Since I spent the better part of four years doing every job in the place from fry cook to cashier, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I can speak from experience, if not with authority on the issue.

If I remember my cheesy video training correctly, it’s considered bad form for a “guest” to wait in line for 35 minutes to place his order and get his food handed across the counter. Sure, if a couple of buses show up, it’s no unheard of, but for your standard lunchtime rush, it’s pretty much frowned upon. Especially when there are only seven people in the line in front of you. This isn’t rocket science after all. We’re putting pre-pattied portions of cooked meat on buns and deep frying potatoes until the buzzer rings for us to take them out and add salt. I’m pretty sure if I took of my tie and dug up my old apron, I could still show you how everything is done.

I’m sure there were extenuating circumstances. There almost always are. Even so, there’s never a really good reason for a burger joint to take more than half an hour to produce a regular menu item… especially when my only option for getting out of line at the point is elbowing my way through to the end or climbing over or under the stanchions. That’s just bad business and the only reason I’ll need to take my business next door whenever I feel the need for a greaseball cheeseburger.