The title is the answer to the question, “what did the English major say to the business major.”  And that’s my segue into last week’s protest by McDonald’s workers and others last week protesting for higher wages.  To say that this is laughable is an understatement.  For some reason there are those who believe that a company should be obligated to pay a person, not based upon their contribution to the overall operations of their employer, but rather on a their idea of a “living wage.”  That rather vague term suggests that compensation should be sufficient to pay all expenses for a family of four, again regardless of the employees skill level.

I’ve written on the minimum wage argument before so I won’t elaborate on the fallacies of their arguments.  Rather, I’ll present to you two scenarios and you be the judge as to whether a McDonald’s employee working 29 hours a week should be earning $24,000 or more a year.

Argument #1

Me:  “I’d like a large iced coffee, no liquid sugar and whole milk.”

McD:  “OK.  Hold on a second.  You want an iced coffee?”

Me:  “Yes.  Large.  No flavor.  Whole milk.”

McD:  “What size?”

Me:  “Large. No liquid sugar.  Whole milk?”

McD:  “Ok.  What flavor?”

Me:  “No liquid sugar.”

McD: “So you want plain?”

Me:  “No.  I don’t want any sugar.  Plain has sugar.

McD:  “OK.”  Screen then displays “extra sugar.”

Me:  “I don’t want extra sugar.  I want no sugar.”

McD “So do you still want the cream?”

Me:  “Yes!”

McD:  “2% or whole milk?”


McD:  “OK.  That’ll be $2.79.”

At the window I pay for my iced coffee and pick it up at the next window.  As I’m driving away I put my straw in.  As I’m on the ramp onto the interstate I taste my iced coffee which has sugar in it.

Now you may find this humorous but I’d would bet money that each of you reading this has had a similar experience at McDonald’s or another fast food place and found it equally exasperating.  I now find it humorous because I can look over at my wife sitting next to me in the car and smile.  We can smile because we know it’s coming.  You see, I’ve had this conversation multiple times at multiple McDonald’s.  It’s happened so often that I can explain to the worker what buttons to look for to complete my order because I’ve witnessed a manager explaining it to an employee so many times.  This, in spite of the fact that I’ve never even seen the employee side of a McDonald’s register.

These are those highly skilled employees who have had about two hours of training on how to operate the cash register that has every product McDonald’s offers at the push of a button.  This isn’t brain surgery.  Heck, it’s not even bunion surgery.   Yet few McDonald’s employees ever seem to master this rather basic tool of fast food restaurants.  And how hard can it be to make french fries or assemble a burger?  Does such a position really justify any increase in wages, let alone a doubling of pay as some have suggested?  And should pay for any employee be based upon the number of dependents they support rather than the quantity and quality of work provided?

Argument #2

My son is in the Army and I’m very proud of him.  He’s a Private First Class and has been in the Army almost 18 months.  He’s trained as a track vehicle repairer, MOS (Military Occupational Skill) 91H.  In other words, he’s a mechanic that works on heavy equipment.  In his first year as a mechanic he’s worked multiple 18 hour days.  He’s worked 24 hour shifts.  He has been on training missions where, during the one month training mission, he slept in a vehicle rather than a bunk. He has to ask permission to leave base or to go home to visit his family.  He’s subject to being told he is going overseas, potentially in harm’s way where his life may be at risk.  If he gets married and has children, because of his nominal pay he’ll probably need to take advantage of government assistance such as food stamps, WIC, etc, in order to make ends meet.   Contrary to public perception, he has to buy his own food and his own uniforms.  He is provided housing.  And he gets to do all of this for about $11,000/year. Do the math.  His pay is well below minimum wage.

So, when an unskilled burger flipper whines about not being able to feed his family on 29 hours a week of wages, it’s hard for me to muster much sympathy.  Rather than demanding to be paid more than the whiner is really entitled to, the whiner should do something to improve their situation like improving their skill set.  The reality is that a lot of people really don’t have the ability to improve their skill set.  Unfortunately those folks will probably be relegated to unskilled work at nominal pay.  Others will be relegated to that work because they lack the self motivation to doing anything about their situation.  In neither case should you and I pay a lot more for a burger to pay for their higher wages.

What I will offer is a compromise.  Let’s pay those who defend our country a “living wage.”  Let’s make sure that those young men and women who risk their lives protecting our don’t have to depend upon welfare to survive.  And then we can have a further discussion on the merits of burger flippers who have no skills earning more than our troops.

Photo credit: Steve Rhodes via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

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