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Archive for September 3, 2018

Sept. 3, 2018 — Laboring on

It’s Labor Day, which used to be a day of workers’ demonstrations and parades by labor organizations. It’s become an end-of-season benchmark holiday or another excuse for selling furniture.

On the contrary, I view today for what it is: the celebration of labor. I’ve always seen certain things through the eyes of economics, the intersection of labor and capital. Decades before my formal training in economics at The Maxwell School of Syracuse University, I questioned certain norms of the time.

One of those norms was the “tipped wage.” I remember running across a pay stub from my brother’s job with the local branch of a national restaurant chain. The pay was not just low, but even ridiculously low, something like $1.75 per hour. He worked the overnight shift, bussing tables.

Only now have some places in the U.S. begun to wake up to the fact that the tipped wage does not allow its recipients to make ends meet, especially in places where there are tight housing markets. Service-oriented businesses in many countries, such as those in Japan, China, Brazil, Switzerland, and Denmark, are expected to pay their waitstaff well, and the tip/service charge is included in your bill.

Because of experiences that my brother and sister have gone through in the service world, I often overtip. Just today, at the only barbershop open in town, I felt very good that I could hand over the money and say, “Keep it,” as a thank-you not only for the cut, but for working on a holiday.

Last Friday, at the bar where this happened, my empathy was not only for the person taken to the hospital, but for the staff who wasn’t going to get nearly the amount of sales and tip money they would have gotten had the band played on until after midnight (they only got through four songs).

In terms of the eternal struggles between labor and management in many industries here in the U.S., I side with the workers. This especially goes in the world of college sport, where free labor is being used to entertain corporate clients and justify the building of not only larger palaces for the teams to play in, but for lavish and extravagant perks and salaries which make sports coaches the highest-paid public employees in most of the 50 states.

It’s why I don’t like the automated kiosks found at certain restaurants these days. The first time I tried one of them, the human worker behind the counter got the order wrong. Yep, instead of paying workers at the restaurant a decent wage with health insurance, the restaurant chain is being staffed by people who don’t know what they are doing.

Instead, citing labor costs, these restaurants are fronted by technology which, in the long run, will wind up being more expensive because of breakdowns, obsolescence, and the inability to do things like, say, call the police if a 9-1-1 emergency occurs on the property.

So, today, spare a thought for those who serve you a drink, take your toll money for the bridge, or who stock the shelves with fresh produce at the grocery store, especially on a holiday weekend.

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