Wednesday, August 23, 2006

2782 Minimum Wage

I still remember his face and it's been at least 15 years. I would leave the Veterinary Medicine Library about 1 p.m. and drive to a near-by Wendy's and get a cup of coffee, or maybe even French fries. There I observed a new employee who appeared to be part of a work program. He was overweight, sweaty, and didn't look too bright. Two men brought him to work and sat in a booth for about 30 minutes watching him while he mopped floors. They didn't appear to be the sharpest knives in the drawer either, so I assumed they were either relatives, or state employees in a work release or welfare-to-work program--maybe JTPA functionaries--or possibly they were with an organization like Salvation Army or Good Will who received government money for job training. (In 1991 Ohio alone had 51 programs through JTPA with a budget of $981 million.)

In a few months I noticed he moved up to cleaning windows and doors, and then the rest rooms. Still the "trainers" sat and watched with their clipboards. Then he began bussing and cleaning tables, clumsy and slow, but adequate. And the other guys watched. Then I saw him in the kitchen grill area fixing orders, and the watchers were gone. The cheery Wendy's shift manager was supervising him. Maybe a year later, I saw this same guy, neat and clean and proud of his uniform, smiling and taking orders at the counter, dealing with difficult customers, and making change. Then I saw him working the take-out window, which is really high pressure and requires a speed I wouldn't have imagined he could do.

When the road work on Olentangy was started, I stopped going to that Wendy's. But about a year later I dropped in there, and he was still there--and so was the cheery manager.

Having worked in a JTPA program myself in the 1980s (developing workshops and publications for unemployed older workers), I suspect this worker was paid much less than minimum wage with the tax payer making up the difference, so that Wendy's was actually receiving money to train and manage this worker. The two guys who watched him until he could get off the program and be hired on his own merits, probably counseled him, provided transportation, and worked out any snags with the restaurant manager.

But the fact remains, until he developed some work skills and a work ethic, he wasn't even worth the minimum. Through patience, assistance, and a government or private work program to bring the employee up to an acceptable level, one worker was probably saved from a life time of petty crime or homelessness.

There are many workers who are not at the current minimum wage, who are hired in with disappointing results. Employers are paying them $9 or $10 an hour and they can't even do the minimum expectations, like smiling, standing up straight, arriving on time, or finding work to do without being told and not talking on the cell phone or playing games on the computer. My son told me this week he was going to have to let an employee go ($10/hr)--had only done 2 things without being told in his first 90 days. "I can't wait for 3 months for the next 2 things," he said.

, ,

No comments: