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MINIMUM WAGE RAISE? People Selling Themselves

One of the more popular news stories this week involves fast food workers from mostly New York City, walking off the job to picket for $15 per hour — over double their federally-mandated $7.25 per hour.

The lack of economic knowledge in these people is hard to witness, and the scheming performed by the slimy union bosses descending upon them is shameful (I am very much for the union worker. I can’t stand most union management.)

Are you in sales? Most people would say no but in fact everyone is in sales. We all sell our physical and/or intellectual labor for pay. Janitors, teachers, fast food workers, salesmen, engineers, doctors…all of us sell what we do to those who want or need it.

Are you worth your compensation? In other words, is your product or service worth the price people pay for it? Chests usually inflate when people answer this question, saying, “No, I’m worth much more.”

You’re right. And you’re wrong.

You’re right in that what we’re paid for a given job doesn’t necessarily equate to our overall value to the company — or to your worth as a human being. You’re wrong because like everything else, labor is a commodity. It has a price. That price must not exceed the value the commodity delivers. It’s the economic law of comparative advantage.

As an extreme example, comparative advantage means my syringe full of heroin means less to me than the $10,000 I would sell to an addict with the shakes. On the flip side, an addict’s $10,000 means a lot less to him than the high he will achieve when he buys my heroin. This exchange happens millions of times a day between willing participants, albeit on a far more rational and legal basis. If it didn’t we would all operate at a loss, and that would spell doom for any business.

We do nothing free of charge. Whether you’re aware of it or not, we all enter into “contracts” with people who employ us. The problem with fast food workers’ complaints about their pay is that what they do — taking orders, frying potatoes, assembling burgers — is not worth $15 per hour.

By the way, how did these people arrive at $15? Did they perform any type of calculation? Can they back up that $15 with supporting evidence? No, “because I need to make more” is not supporting evidence. I guarantee fast food employers have calculated how much they can afford to pay you — of course with the help of our federal government who has NO business dictating what an employer can pay their staff.

We all do what we do for a profit. Fast food restaurants are no different. Please understand, fast food workers of America, if you don’t provide value for your services — in other words, if you cost more than your labor is worth — you will be replaced. In fact, meet the horizon here. Rest assured, if a machine can take customers’ orders for less money than you, you will not have a job.

I’m going to say something that will shock and offend many: The goal of your employer is not to employ you. That’s right. The goal of your employer is to make a profit, and if he can do so without you, he will. If Apple could make the next iPhone without employing thousands of people, they’d do it. But they can’t because it takes engineers, marketing personnel, and support staff to make it all happen.

Look at the situation another way. The chief expense of any business is labor — employees. Not just wages and salaries but health care (thank you FDR), non-health care benefits, taxes, surcharges like the Occupational Privilege Tax (a treat anyone working in downtown Denver gets to enjoy), unemployment insurance, workers compensation insurance, liability insurance, and on and on.

Fast food workers who want to double their hourly wage without providing the equivalent in value are picketing for their own extinction.

Educate yourselves, do everything you can to become indispensable to your employer, learn new skills, do something that needs to be done without being told. In other words, provide more value to the company than you cost, and I guarantee the money will come.



Michael Cummings

Michael A. Cummings has a Bachelors in Business Management from St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, and a Masters in Rhetoric & Composition from Northern Arizona University. He has worked as a department store Loss Prevention Officer, bank auditor, textbook store manager, Chinese food delivery man, and technology salesman. Cummings wrote position pieces for the 2010 Trevor Drown for US Senate (AR) and 2012 Joe Coors for Congress (CO) campaigns.

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