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Just Say No to McWork!

April 6, 2011

On facebook, the local Fox affiliate asked the question, if you were jobless and looking for a job, would you take a job at McDonald’s. This was asked because McDonald’s promised 50,000 new jobs by the end of the month. So many people said yes. They were saying it is better to have honest work and a paycheck than being without a job. The response should be no. People should rather be unemployed and thumb their nose at McDonald’s than take a job there. Why? Because of human dignity.

McDonalds, and so many other companies offering jobs, offer low paying, part-time jobs, without benefits, so that such companies can make mind-numbing profits. They are not interested in providing jobs to the people, they are interested in making as great a profit as possible. Creating new jobs creates new money-making markets; but they want to have these markets run by people who are paid as little as possible, an insignificant amount of money for the work they do and the money they help generate. The lower the salary and benefits they can get away with, the greater the profit. The average worker is being used by them as servile servants, and they are told if they are not willing to accept this fact, many others will be willing to take their job, and so they should just be quiet and not cause any problems. We are told that they should be willing to be paid little and be grateful for the crumbs they are being given. Hard work, after all, pays off – just, of course, we often forget who benefits from the hard work is often not the one who does it!

The labor force should cause problems. When corporations are able to be praised for turning thousands of people into their servile servants without any dignity, without a living wage, we find ourselves entering a disastrous stage of human development. We are regressing. We are told that living wages are no longer to be expected. The reality is that if living wages are not offered, people should not take the jobs being handed out. There is a time for people to say no to the system. The vast number of unemployed have a power to change the system if they wanted. Right now they are looked upon as people who will take any work offered, and so we can make them fight for jobs which are beneath them and their dignity. They must come together and say no to this. They should not sell their souls for the sake of a few dollars. They are human beings. They deserve to be treated as such, especially when they are the ones who are going to do the real heavy labor which their bosses will not do, that is, they are the ones who are going to work to generate products, to generate the wealth their bosses take and make their own.

Many people say, if you are not willing to work, you should not receive any aid from society. This is used, however, to force people to take jobs which will not give them a living wage. If asked if this should also be applied to people who do not become prostitutes, the answer is either “prostitution is not legal” or “who makes you the judge?” The first, of course, is answered by the second. We are finding ourselves in a time when morality is question, and legalized prostitution is on the rise. Where prostitution is legal, then it is an “honest job” and if people are not willing to take it, can they also not be denied assistance? As long as you think people must do honest jobs or be denied social benefit, and society has defined such soul-destroying work as honest work, the answer must be yes. This, however, tells us something about our society and where we are headed. People are being told to sell themselves out, to sacrifice their whole bodies, their human dignity, for a few dollars. We are turning people into prostitutes. As Playboy shows us, one doesn’t have to have sex in order to sell one’s body out, in order to prostitute oneself. Prostitution, in the modern age, is about the destruction of human dignity for the sake of money. Our system, which looks to the un-employed as a body which can be used and employed without regard to their human dignity is a prostitutional system. We should not be surprised, therefore, if some government (such as in Europe) demands a woman (or a man) to become an actual prostitute or be forever turned away from social benefits. It is what we should expect from the system and it tells us where our social priorities lie. We value so little the dignity of the human person.  No wonder hard workers do not have to be paid much;  if they are of so little value, what they can produce must also be of little value. Wealth is what is seen as true value in our society, and those who have it are more than human – they participate in wealth itself, and so they must be respected for that wealth, they must be bowed to and worshiped as demigods. Such is the idolatry our capitalist society has made.

There is the need for the working class to say “no more.” Yes, they must unite and work together.  They have been promised all kinds of lies (“if you work hard, you too can make it”) and those lies must be exposed for what they are. We do not need to have a society where everyone makes the same wage, where everyone is the same, but we need a more just distribution of the income made by the work which is done. Those who have the wealth, currently, control it because they have not found sufficient opposition. They fear collective bargaining, because they know a collective can become their equal, and make demands. They want everyone to be for themselves, to believe that, on their own, with good hard work everything will be fine. They know, as long as there is no collective, they will be able to control the outcome and control the populace, making them fight each other for the crumbs they hand out. But the more people see those who have the wealth making profits while the rest of the working class have less wealth to use for their own, the greater the chance this imbalance can be overcome. People need to be awakened, to see how they are helping to support the wealth get even more than their fair share of the pie. Only then can the workers get what they deserve.

Work at McDonalds, and so many other positions like it, should not are be seen as a job. They are slavery positions which simulate jobs, but to do not give what is needed for a living wage. Only by having a living wage, without any strings attached, can one be said to have a profession. Work which does not pay a proper wage, but is considered “work,” is used to stop people from becoming a threat to those who have wealth. It is also used to make sure people remain wage slaves. We need only to remember how, during the American Depression, migrant workers were given “jobs” which did not pay enough to live, so that those who took those “jobs” were enslaved to their employers, being put under greater and greater debt. Can we not see this is what is happening today? Can we not see this must end? Surely corporations can afford giving living wages to their workers. Sure, they might not make millions, but the corporate heads still will be able to earn a good living as well, if they gave their workers the wages they deserved. After all, the workers are doing the work, are they not? Why do we keep supporting those who do far less real work on the backs of the workers, and then tell people “if you do not work you do not eat”?

The sad fact is that this kind of criticism is often seen as denigrating those workers it seeks to help. “What, you think so little of those who work at McDonalds”? No. I think so highly of them, for being workers, than I think they deserve to earn decent wages. The problem is not the worker at McDonalds. I do not think lowly of them for working. The problem is the corporate world which turns such hard workers into willing slaves, promising them the sky – “hard work will make you rich and successful” – all the while so few will ever be able to achieve that kind of success if they do all the hard work they do. The reality is that those with wealth help each other and fear those who want wealth to be used as it is meant to be used  with a universal distribution of goods for the common good. We find, however, wealth is being collected and kept centralized in the hands of a few. The wealthy are still gaining huge profits while everyone else suffers; this means they must be taking out more and more of the wealth from its distribution into society.  It is not being used for the common good, but for the good of the people who own it. It is being collected to be used as a force against the people, instead of spread as a tool for their benefit. No wonder we find, in Wisconsin, Governor Walker  on the one hand working as hard as he can against collective bargaining, while on the other hand, giving all kinds of governmental positions to unqualified individuals like Brian Deschane (a college drop-out, with a drunk-driving record, and no work experience who was given a nice, cozy position earning $81,500 a year, and now, because of an outcry, “demoted” to a position still earning well over 60k a year! — a job given to him apparently because he was the son of one of Walker’s major campaign contributors). The wealthy with power know exactly how to keep the power and use it to keep their wealth. Isn’t it funny to see how the wealthy stand together and collectively control society with their power, but they get upset if the poor want to get together and, using the power of a collective, to help make things better for all? It’s clear, they really are not against collective all collective bargaining – only the collective bargaining of the majority, for they know if the majority actually worked together, their hold on society will end.

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51 Comments
  1. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    April 6, 2011 8:11 am

    I want to short-stop the common economic argument that McDonald’s cannot afford to pay its workers better. The business model of In-and-Out Burgers, a prosperous regional chain in California, shows otherwise. The current owner (an evangelical Christian) decided that the path to success is to focus on his employees. Part time work starts at $10 an hour, full-time employees get health, dental and retirement, and managers are paid very competitive salaries. His profits are less, but he is definitely not hurting, and he is producing a quality product while treating his employees as people and not as disposable production units.

    • Darwin permalink
      April 6, 2011 9:32 am

      Actually, my understanding is that In-and-Out’s profits per store are actually higher than McDonald’s — their total profits are lower because they have many fewer locations. And they are definitely a better company selling a better product.

      That said, In-and-Out only pays 1-2 more dollars per hour than McDonald’s. I’m curious: does Henry consider the $10 starting wage that you mention for In-and-Out a just wage? (That would put you at about the poverty level for a family of four, but 50% above it for a single person.) Or should people refuse to work for In-and-Out as well?

      • April 6, 2011 10:46 am

        Though it is better, I would say it does not appear to be good enough, and should also be rejected. You are right in pointing out I would not agree with $10/hour wages in today’s environment. Of course, what I say must be understood so that there might be exceptions which prove the rule, for example, a new enterprise which is not making huge profits is something people can enter with the hope the enterprise will achieve a proper level of wealth so people who work there can make a proper living — but in such situations, the people who are on “top” of the chain should also be seen as working hard, and making near the same as everyone else, otherwise it is clear, the situation is exploitation and the kind I also reject. Exploitation is the issue, and it is increasing in our society.

      • Kurt permalink
        April 6, 2011 11:31 am

        I hope Darwin might even be pleased that most of us liberals recognize that there are market forces at work that limit the ability of a boss to offer a wage too much above his competitors. I think the remarkable aspect is that organizing work in units of stable, full time jobs with dignity; it improves productivity, efficiency and profits.

        The question here is the organization of work. Is in organized into casual, transient pick up labor or into “jobs.” Misused as the word is, “job” has an important meaning in Catholic social teaching. A job is not labor in exchange for payment. A Job is a particular way of organizing work so that it is something a man can give his labor for in exchange for the ability to be self-sufficient.

      • Darwin permalink
        April 6, 2011 3:29 pm

        Hmmm. It looks like McDonald’s registered a $4.9B worldwide profit last year after taxes (this is based on their financial statement to stockholders on Google Finance, information which their company officers could go to jail for falsifying). They have about 400,000 worldwide employees. So if you turn McDonald’s into a non-profit and distribute the entire profit to its employees, they’d get an $7.93/hr raise (if we assume that between the mix of full and part time people there’s an average of 30hrs/wk worked. If we assume 40hrs/wk they get a $5.94 raise.)

        That’s actually a pretty substantial improvement. If they’re currently averaging around $8/hr (in most areas fast food pays a bit over minimum wage, since given the choice people prefer other low wage jobs rather than) that would take people up to $14-16/hr, which is arguably a solid working class wage.

        Now, that’s ignoring the fact that McDonald’s is at the end of a decade long turn-around. In 2007 their profits were $2.3B, and although their employees were probably somewhat smaller in number, I would imagine we’re talking only a $3-4 premium back then: $11-13/hr total. That seems like it’s back toward’s Henry’s unacceptable range.

        Perhaps more concerning are some other brands. Yum Brands (which operates A&W, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, etc.) had a profit of $1.16B last year, with 336,000 employees. If we turn them into a non-profit their employees still only make $9-11.

        And Burger King is even worse — they lost $186M last year, but have 38,840 employees (they have far fewer employees because most BK locations are franchises in which the workers work for the franchise holder, not the company). I hope we don’t cut their wages to $4-5. One assumes that their new private owners get to take a bath on that one. However, do they get to keep any of the profits if they’re able to turn it profitable again, and if so, how much?

        The which, actually, opens up a reasonable question: Is the fact that McDonald’s is making record profits while Burger King is losing money primarily a result of how McDonald’s employees in the store do their work? And should the answer to that question have anything to do with how we answer this pay question.

        • M.Z. permalink
          April 6, 2011 4:31 pm

          Only 15% of McDonalds’ restaurants are corporate.

      • Darwin permalink
        April 6, 2011 5:04 pm

        I believe it’s more like 20%. BK is less than 10% corporate, and they have significantly fewer locations in the US, much less overseas. (The majority of McD profit growth these days is from international, not US.)

      • Darwin permalink
        April 6, 2011 8:14 pm

        Details bug me so I had to check:

        McDonald’s has 31,000 stores worldwide, of which 9,000 are company owned. (30% — higher than I thought)
        Burger King has 12,000 stores worldwide, of which 1,000 are company owned (indeed, a little under 10%)

        Given that there are 9x as many McDonald’s locations as Burger King locations, that seems to make the delta in employees pretty credible. Plus while looking around I saw the 400,000 employee figure for McDonald’s in a number of additional places.

      • boinquo permalink
        April 19, 2011 3:57 pm

        My friend used to work at In N Out when we were in high school and she started out at $10. But that was a long time ago. It seems as though they have not kept up with inflation and cost of living increases since then. My hasty answer would be “not anymore”.

  2. Julian Barkin permalink
    April 6, 2011 8:38 am

    As a job, no Mickey Dees is a bad choice. If anything its only real use should be to give teenagers their first job experience to move up to something more substantial and pad the resume.

  3. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    April 6, 2011 8:42 am

    I wonder whether there is an argument for two versions of minimum wage. An “apprentice wage” for teenagers working for disposable cash or pocket money and a “master wage” for adults working to feed and support their family. I suppose it would be too difficult to administer, but there is a significant difference in what is required to support a family and what a high school kid is willing to make to go to the movies on the weekend.

    • April 6, 2011 8:48 am

      I wonder why we are expecting child labor in our society, and making children work? If their families have the money, they shouldn’t work. If there is necessity for the children to work, they should be given real living wages as everyone else. But I think we should stop the child labor, stop this “right” to a job by teens thinking it is some sort of necessity we get cheap labor out of them. It hurts everyone, especially those who need living wage jobs. It gives corporations the chance to drop people who need living wages and say “the market allows us to do this.”

      • April 6, 2011 9:37 am

        Henry, I disagree. I worked as a teenager & I view it as part of my education. Work is a good thing to do. I enjoyed it.

        • April 6, 2011 10:38 am

          What most teenagers, who come from families which don’t need the extra income, do when they get jobs is bring down the whole market; because all they earn is excess of need, they do not need to be paid the same amount. This means they can say yes to lower wages, causing those who need the jobs to have to compete with people who don’t. This is a part of the problem, and something so many do not understand. The whole “work as a teen” mentality (which is child labor however we put it) is all for the benefit of the wealthy; wealthy kids work to have extra cash, while the wealth corporate heads get nice, low-wage earners so they can have an artificial job market. I would also say it is a part of the Calvinistic work ethic to suggest this is a good thing — and something we as Catholics need to see through before we keep making jobs something only the young can afford to do.

      • Bruce in Kansas permalink
        April 6, 2011 10:53 am

        I’m not convinced teenagers holding a part-time job isn’t a good thing. Isn’t the idea that 16-year-olds entering the workforce is a way to train the next generation to build their work ethic, develop career interests, possibly learn some business practices? I don’t see how prohibiting them from working helps. Doing so seems like an ingredient in a recipe for more bored young people getting into trouble.

        The problem to solve is how to provide a just living wage for the primary wage-earning adults supporting families who have no specialized knowledge, skills or abilities to qualify them to perform work the marketplace values as worth more than that 16-year-old’s.

        • April 6, 2011 11:08 am

          Really, the idea that the teens have for entering the workforce is just to make extra cash so they can spend it on things like ipods, tvs, and the like. They are not interested, for the most part, in the work as a thing in and of itself. And since they have no need for the work, but only seek it to help with their luxuries, they are already getting a false view of the workforce.

          People should work when there is a need for work, not for the sake of luxury. There are many things people can do outside of work which teens can do. The fact it is seen as a way to train them for the “work ethic” itself tells me something about what is going on. What “work ethic” and is this “worth ethic” itself good, or really, a part of the ideology used to keep the unjust system in play? I think it is the second.

          Moreover, I think people should be able to get real jobs where they make real money while being trained, instead of the modern “pay for your own training first” which we see being spread about today. People can’t apply for jobs in fields outside of their study- if you have a PhD you can’t become a teacher because you didn’t get an education degree — nor can you be a librarian because you didn’t get a library science degree, nor can you work at the parks because you don’t have a forestry degree. In the past, it was said a degree showed promise so you could learn on the job; now the degree, and the expenses of it, are needed before you are even looked upon as a candidate for a job. This is again a demonstration of what is really going on with the system, imo.

        • M.Z. permalink
          April 6, 2011 11:16 am

          McDonald’s does not provide an entry into the bourgeoisie despite the myths around it. One does not learn any skills that are transferable to professional positions. (Learning how to work and play with others is typically covered in kindergarten.) It can in fact be regressive since you are most often under poor management. As with most factory work (McDonald’s is factory work), there is no reward for working or trying harder.

      • Phillip permalink
        April 6, 2011 2:01 pm

        “Really, the idea that the teens have for entering the workforce is just to make extra cash so they can spend it on things like ipods, tvs, and the like. They are not interested, for the most part, in the work as a thing in and of itself. And since they have no need for the work, but only seek it to help with their luxuries, they are already getting a false view of the workforce.”

        That’s one possibility. Another is that they can contribute to their family (i.e. cost of food, school etc.) as well as save for their future education, costs once married etc.

        Thus a job for a teen can teach saving, sharing in one’s family and the virtue of work. Even if the work environment is not perfect, which one is.

        • April 6, 2011 4:04 pm

          “That’s one possibility. Another is that they can contribute to their family (i.e. cost of food, school etc.) as well as save for their future education, costs once married etc.”

          Two things. One, is that what most teens do? No. Second, there would be less need for such contributions if the work force was better treated, so their parents would be earning more with less competition from teens merely looking for an extra allowance.

      • April 6, 2011 6:40 pm

        Henry says:

        “Really, the idea that the teens have for entering the workforce is just to make extra cash so they can spend it on things like ipods, tvs, and the like.”

        How do you know this? My second job was at McDonald’s, and I worked there to save up money for college, which my parents would never have been able to afford.

      • Phillip permalink
        April 6, 2011 7:01 pm

        “Two things. One, is that what most teens do? No. Second, there would be less need for such contributions if the work force was better treated, so their parents would be earning more with less competition from teens merely looking for an extra allowance.”

        Most teens do the wrong thing. Thats why they have parents to limit their expenditures on this and teach them, from when they are young, the value of saving etc.

        Second, it is not needed for many if not most American families. But it does teach them the value of sacrifice and giving to the family even when they don’t need it.

    • Kurt permalink
      April 6, 2011 9:45 am

      Some states have subminimum wages for teens. Wisconsin had it when I was a teen. I was illegally fired from my part time job they day I turned 18 (a shy and docile boy at the time, it was upsetting as I assumed I did something wrong. Later another ex-employee informed me everyone got fired on their 18th birthday except for very extroverted males who the boss thought might stir something up).

      • April 6, 2011 10:32 am

        Another indication, to me, of the way child labor is being used and abused.

  4. M.Z. permalink
    April 6, 2011 9:38 am

    If one has been to a McDonald’s lately, one will notice the dearth of teenagers working there. In the suburbs, it is rare for a shift to be half staffed with teenagers on a weekend. The norm used to be everyone was a teenager except the shift manager.

  5. April 6, 2011 9:38 am

    Amen. This is exactly the corporate agenda: starve the population so that they will accept gruel and water as sustenance, and then control has really been earned. Accepting a job at McDonald’s “because there are no other jobs,” is not honest, its subjugation.

    • April 6, 2011 10:47 am

      Sadly, it is working, and more and more people are scrambling for jobs which exploit them….

  6. April 6, 2011 9:43 am

    The response should be no. People should rather be unemployed and thumb their nose at McDonald’s than take a job there. Why? Because of human dignity.

    While I sympathize with you on an emotional level, I disagree. I believe a person can have dignity and work at McDonald’s. It may not be desirable, but I do believe it can still be dignified. True that there are many issues with corporations like McDonald’s but to tell a man [or woman] to feed their kids on dignity alone does not recognize the urgency of why many people would be doing such work in the first place. And there is nothing more dignified than providing for one’s family.

    I enjoy reading your site. I happen to differ with you on this one, though.

    • April 6, 2011 10:34 am

      Marc

      The point of dignity is not the question of the work itself, but the treatment of the workers. The work is fine, the treatment is not, and without proper treatment of workers, it becomes undignified work. The same, for example, which changes the situation between a slave and a freeman, who happen to do the same kind of work, is what is in effect here. The unjust use of the labor is what makes it undignified. And working at McDonalds, one will NOT be “providing for one’s family.” One will be, like migrant workers in the past, working hard, but find themselves further and further in debt to the system because they do not get a fair wage for their work (for example, workers at McDonalds have to pay for their own food!).

      • April 6, 2011 12:16 pm

        Henry, again, I understand what you’re saying but if a person has no other recourse but to take a job at McDonald’s, I am not inclined to fault them nor consider them undignified. What you are talking about is an ideal, which I concur, though in the absence of said ideal, I think anyone who had a choice between no work/money/food, would still be a dignified person, even if the work is not.

        I personally feel such rhetoric is out of touch with how some folks are living. Frank M [below your comment] made a point that is seldom discussed when talking about worker’s rights, economic downturns, etc., is to what role and capacity are we willing to step in and lend a hand to those who are experiencing hardship. If it meant that my neighbor had to work at McDonald’s and I could then supplement, if I were in the position to do so, that would be better and more dignified than to simply condemn corporations on principle alone. In the absence of this lending hand, what solution can liberal rhetoric provide for real-world scenarios [I am not a conservative either]?

        • April 6, 2011 12:21 pm

          Marc

          As long as we are kept apart, not working together as a social whole, and made to be individuals fighting each other, your answer is true. But it is helping support and reinforce the system which is bringing the worker down. People are “having to work” and all and are “doing so to get by” and I understand that — but in doing so, they are making sure they will never “get by.” The servile state uses this to help convince people to “just do it.” That’s the problem. It’s how people got caught up in the depression with jobs which put them into debt; they were “doing the job” for the families, too, but in doing so, they got further and further behind as the accepted the “job” which was offered. When, however, this was opposed, not by mere individuals, but by collectives – the situation changed. Again, I sympathize and I understand why people say “I must take it.” But that just shows how enslaved they are!

  7. April 6, 2011 10:02 am

    I think the real questions, rather than “if you were jobless and looking for a job, would you take a job at McDonald’s” should be: If you have a good job but your neighbor or your neighbor’s son were jobless and looking for a job, would you want him to take a job at McDonald’s? How are you willing to help your neighbor in the short term? Are you willing to pay higher taxes to support extended unemployment benefits? How are you willing to help in a structural, longer-term way? Are you willing to pay more for goods and services whose price reflects their genuine cost? Are you willing to accept lower pay working for an employer who is less profitable but treats all employees with dignity?

    How much is anybody in a “successful” and comfortable position willing to do?

    The topic of young people’s unemployment hits home for me: Both my sons are out of work, and their experience with maltreatment at “intern” jobs has eroded their enthusiasm for work significantly. The lies Henry wrote about are implicit — What’s happening in the real world is that the lies are becoming more explicit: “We will hire you as an intern for a few months and bring you on board full time with benefits.” But modern outfits don’t seem the least bit motivated to deal honestly or keep any commitments other than maximizing profits. Maximizing profit is, after all, what they are legally required to do.

    This isn’t to say that my sons have no part in their unemployment. It is up to them whether they lose heart or not when an employer takes advantage. “Apprentice wages” aren’t an entirely bad thing if the jobs either lead to meaningful employment or support the apprentice looking for a “real” job. The problem is when it becomes in the employers’ interest to prevent the apprentices from becoming masters.

  8. April 6, 2011 6:43 pm

    Henry:

    It seems like you could cut to the chase by saying specifically how much you think the minimum wage should be. Then advise people never to take a job that pays less than that amount, no matter how young and unskilled they might be. What is the amount? Also, would it be the same no matter what area of the country one lives in? Specifically what benefits need to be included, and how much sick and vacation time, at a minimum?

    But then, surely that amount would not stay the same indefinitely. How would you determine how often, and by what amount, it needed to be raised?

    • April 6, 2011 6:54 pm

      Agellius

      Minimum wage should be living wage, which, as we know, is a contingent amount, depending upon time and place. Again, we must look at what happened during the great depression with migrant workers, and how their work was abused. This is slowly becoming the norm, once again, especially with all the debts people have just to make ends meet. The debts prove they must work, the work they are offered is McJob, and McJob doesn’t pay enough to live without continuing to get more in debt. Such people are constantly told to keep working, while working, they get into great debt, forced even more to keep working the only jobs being offered. They are told if they don’t take it, they are not doing their part, they are a drain on society, etc. What, again, is there to do? Well they are told collective bargaining is not the answer, for it means they are selfish and lazy (really, what it means is that the wealthy who make their money on the backs of their workers are projecting their own selfishness and laziness, and as long as they can keep their workers from getting together to change the system, they know they can keep mooching on their workers). Again, they do need to realize the solution is to say no to the system, to reject as a collective whole — until that happens, more and more people will find themselves living on wages which won’t allow them to live without debt, and more and more people will be told to take the McJobs as the solution, falling at last, to the system.

  9. Dan permalink
    April 6, 2011 7:10 pm

    I often agree with much of what you say Henry, but I find this post bordering on absurdity. There are a number of fundamental economic principles you are completely ignoring here.

    1. Paying people more, particularly in entry-level jobs, translates into increased cost of goods upward through the chain. Everything becomes more expensive, so eventually the person working for $25/hr at McDonalds can’t afford to buy the hamburger that now costs $15. Over time, there is no change in standard of living.

    2. Where do you stop? You can clothe your family for $10 per shirt if you’re poor, but that’s only because the people assembling them are making $1.00 per hour in Bangladesh. If you pay $10.00 per hour to those workers, all of a sudden your shirt costs $40, and you can not longer afford to clothe your family.

    3. The argument would doubtless be “these corporations are making absurd profits -lower their profits!”. But, many of these high volume businesses where many of these entry-level jobs are don’t make a substantial profit margin. They make their money on volume. This creates a substantial cash flow risk, which requires such profit margins as protection. For example, if you increase McDonald’s labour costs (costs of production) dramatically, they still may make a profit, but they have no cushion in case of market fluctuations of the price of beef. E.g. if I’m McDonalds and I’m making $4B a year in profits, I’m probably also incurring $4B PER MONTH in expenses. You cut my profit margins down to $500M per year to raise wages, and all of a sudden a change in the market price for beef burns through my surplus and I have no money to pay my expenses. There’s 400,000 people out of a job.

    4. You take profit out of the equation, and you take incentive out of the equation. Until you’ve started a scalable business yourself, you don’t understand the risks involved in the process. I can *assure* you, as someone who is currently doing it, that no amount of money is worth the stress I endure. But if you take away all the upside of me sacrificing every aspect of my life, there is absolutely no way in hell I would ever start or manage a business.

    There are many more fallacies here. This is just the tip of the iceberg…

    • Dan permalink
      April 6, 2011 7:13 pm

      Not to mention that salary conditions of work are directly proportional to responsibility. If you screw up a hamburger, nobody cares. If you screw up a large contract, thousands of people lose their jobs. Shouldn’t the person who has to suffer through the burden of the latter get paid proportionately more than the person whose responsibilities are insignificant? If the guy at McDonalds makes 75% of what I get, and I put in countless more hours with an immeasurably larger burden of responsibility, is that dignified?

    • April 6, 2011 7:18 pm

      Dan

      So many issues here. For example, you talk about “entry level jobs.” You are falling for the system as it stands, and thinking that “entry level” means one should accept degenerate, non-living wage conditions. Second, and this is something we must remember, this is also being posted not just as an “entry-level” job, but the “you have been laid off and you must take a job” job.

      As for where one stops, again, a restructuring of the system where people are given fair wages for their work will create a restructuring of consumption and how it is to be done.

      Third, it is interesting how people are accepting these large diversity of pay in mega-corporations – what happened to subsidiarity?

      Fourth, I have not said that there should be no profit, but there should be regulations here. When there were more regulations, and people with “low end” jobs were still capable of having living wages, the higher wage earners did not make such a disproportionate difference in pay as we find today — to say that it needs to be more proportionate allows for such incentive. However, and what is also true, the capitalist lie is to say that this is the only incentive, it is, again, showing us where we are as a society, what our ultimate goal is. If there were other goals, there would be incentives. And indeed, history shows this is so, too.

      • April 6, 2011 8:29 pm

        What were the “more regulations” that existed in the past, and what precisely did they accomplish in regard to the concern you raise? Be specific.

      • Dan permalink
        April 7, 2011 11:09 am

        For example, you talk about “entry level jobs.” You are falling for the system as it stands, and thinking that “entry level” means one should accept degenerate, non-living wage conditions.

        Then propose to me a new system that would provide “living wage conditions” across the board, while keeping inflation down and providing appropriate dignity and incentives for those that have jobs with much more responsibility.

        Second, and this is something we must remember, this is also being posted not just as an “entry-level” job, but the “you have been laid off and you must take a job” job.

        Wait – so what you’re saying is that people who have been in better positions should not take entry level work because they are essentially “too good for it”? Isn’t that in effect lowering the dignity further of those who are only qualified for that kind of job?

        Third, it is interesting how people are accepting these large diversity of pay in mega-corporations – what happened to subsidiarity?

        I’m not sure I follow your argument here. Can you clarify?

        I agree with SB’s comment – it would be helpful if you could clarify which regulations you were referring to.

  10. Kurt permalink
    April 7, 2011 10:14 am

    Paying people more, particularly in entry-level jobs,…

    Let’s not falsely sooth ourselves by using the term “entry-level.” That implies a new entrant to the labor force with expected advancement to a dignified and rewarding job. If you are terming this work as such, please give some evidence on how this work uses only new entrants to the labor market and helps advance a worker to better employment. Otherwise, just call it “low wage work.”

    But, many of these high volume businesses where many of these entry-level[you said it again!] jobs are don’t make a substantial profit margin. They make their money on volume.

    There is some truth there. McDonald’s business model needs huge volume to succeed. Fair wages is not what they fear most. The family meal at home is McDonald’s greatest enemy. Expansion of McDonald’s doesn’t compete with Le Bec Fin. It competes with the family.

    You take profit out of the equation…

    It is not an issue of profit. It is an issue of the organization of work. You can give a person stable, full time employment working at a certain skill level because you’ve attracted workers with those skills by offering a fair wage or you’ve paid to train them in those skills. Or you can hire at the same cost two unskilled people at low wages and organize work so that workers neither need nor acquire any skills and so turnover and transience have no negative impact on your business model since there is no business benefit from skilled, stable or experienced workers. Each could be equally profitable, it is just a business choice as to how work is organized.

    • Dan permalink
      April 7, 2011 11:32 am

      “Entry level” is just a label. You claim I am using it to sugar coat a harsh reality. I claim that you’re threatened by the term because it implies that dignity in work comes from an internal disposition rather than an external environment. If you have the right attitude and work hard, any job can be an “entry level” job, as you put it. If you’re unmotivated and have a bad attitude, the job becomes undignified. Nobody, not even at McDonalds, treats their top performers like crap.

      I don’t believe your hypothesis that work positions are intrinsically undignified. Dignity comes from within, not from without. Christ kept his dignity while being humiliated by his authorities because of his attitude. You can be paid like garbage and abused by your boss, but if you believe in what you’re doing, and you do it to the best of your abilities, it is a dignified job.

      If you don’t want to take the job because it will prevent you from finding a more suitable job because you are called to something different, that’s a different story. To “thumb your nose”, as Henry put it, at a job simply because it’s low paying or the working conditions are poor is arrogant, uncharitable toward those that are less fortunate and have no other options, and a reflection of personal insecurity. It is the sin of pride.

      Now, if you’re claiming to “thumb your nose” at the system rather than the job, then that isn’t sinful, but it is still naive and completely impractical. Until we invent self-cleaning toilets, someone still needs to scrub them. That job requires no skill or training, is easily replaceable, and has no inherently meaningful consequences for failure. It can be staffed by someone (e.g. a highschool kid) with no living expenses, so why should I pay a living wage to someone who would be happy to take the job for beer money on the weekend? Furthermore, it indignifies those that have invested the time and effort into hard work and personal development.

      Entry level jobs are necessary parts of society. The issue is not the job itself. It’s the problem caused by the circumstances in which people (e.g. immigrants) cannot pull themselves out of an entry level job no matter how hard they work. But the solution is not to abolish the job, it’s to fix the source of the problem.

      It is not an issue of profit. It is an issue of the organization of work. You can give a person stable, full time employment working at a certain skill level because you’ve attracted workers with those skills by offering a fair wage or you’ve paid to train them in those skills. Or you can hire at the same cost two unskilled people at low wages and organize work so that workers neither need nor acquire any skills and so turnover and transience have no negative impact on your business model since there is no business benefit from skilled, stable or experienced workers. Each could be equally profitable, it is just a business choice as to how work is organized.

      Untrue. See above. There are far many more jobs in the world that require no skill at all than those that require skill. If I hire an MBA to haul furniture, he’s not going to do any better than the guy who dropped out in Grade 8.

  11. Kurt permalink
    April 7, 2011 12:40 pm

    “Entry level” is just a label.

    No. It is a term in labor economics that has a meaning, i.e. unskilled work done by someone entering the labor market.

    Christ kept his dignity…

    If you are comparing Christ to a McDonald’s worker, I guess Ray Kroc is Pilate.

    Entry level jobs are necessary parts of society.

    Sure. As are low wage jobs. But they are different things. I can accept more modest wages, no benefits and job insecurity for a worker just entering the market with a chance to move up as he acquires experience on the job.

    But don’t falsely use that label for persons in jobs or a job strata they will spend their whole life in. If you are perfectly content for millions of Americans to work their whole life in jobs with the pay, benefits and job security of a McDonald’s job, then be man enough to defend that position.

    • Dan permalink
      April 7, 2011 2:27 pm

      But don’t falsely use that label for persons in jobs or a job strata they will spend their whole life in. If you are perfectly content for millions of Americans to work their whole life in jobs with the pay, benefits and job security of a McDonald’s job, then be man enough to defend that position.

      I’m not content about it. I explicitly mentioned in my post above that it is a problem when people are trapped in those positions. But to thumb your nose at the concept of low-paying job changes nothing. These jobs are and should be low paying jobs. Trying to somehow transform them into living-wage positions isn’t realistic from an economic and social perspective.

      I see a lot of corporate hate driving Henry’s original post. Unfortunately, most corporate hate is based on misinformation. You’d be surprised at just how fragile many of these so-called “mega corporations” are, and how even a slight shift in cost structure pushes them to the brink and creates system-wide risk for every party involved. Sure, you can raise everyone’s wages to living standards, but nobody’s job would be secure. Many large corporations would die with every fluctuation in the market. And there would be no new corporations to take their place. Is that really a better system?

      Let’s work the real problem here – we need to create more opportunities for better paying jobs, not raise the wages of those jobs that, by nature, must be low wage.

  12. Kurt permalink
    April 7, 2011 3:11 pm

    Dan,

    I appreciate that you have dropped the misuse of the term “entry level” and are correctly saying “low wage”. And I don’t disagree that there always will be some low wage work. But we also don’t have to simply accept a race to the bottom. Work can be organized in different ways. And to organize work in a way that a great proportion of it does not pay a living wage is wrong.

    The economy must serve man, not man serve the econony (as someone said).

    • Dan permalink
      April 7, 2011 4:23 pm

      I agree. The economy is the new secular God (there are actually a lot of parallels between religious fervour and capitalist economics). Unchecked greed eventually creates a system that collapses on itself, and we’re nearing that tipping point (it should have tipped during the housing meltdown, but the bailout kept it teetering).

      I do think it’s an oversimplification to talk about a reorganization of work as the solution, as if it were the employers creating this environment. You’re forgetting that much of the chaos is driven by our modern consumerist tendencies to treat employment as a dating relationship – get what you can out of it and then move on when it gets boring. I run an IT shop, and I’ve stopped hiring Gen Y students. You can invest an incredible amount into training them and structuring your organization in such a way to make them feel valued, but their sense of entitlement kills any sense of loyalty. The typical lifecycle of a Gen Y software developer is less than two years. So the expense and disruption of training someone on our complex systems, only to get one productive year out of them, is simply not worth it. I’ve done what I can to build a better company, but if it is not reciprocated, that’s not my fault.

      • Kurt permalink
        April 11, 2011 11:10 am

        I do think it’s an oversimplification to talk about a reorganization of work as the solution, as if it were the employers creating this environment. You’re forgetting that much of the chaos is driven by our modern consumerist tendencies to treat employment as a dating relationship – get what you can out of it and then move on when it gets boring.

        I think you and I could set aside any need to determine if it is bosses or employees who brought us to this point, so long as we agree that there needs to be some social action (government regulation, trade unionism, tax incentives, tripartitism, etc.) to bring about just and productive employment practices.

  13. April 8, 2011 12:46 am

    This is a really nice statement, but I think it’s unfair to those of us who regularly worry about going hungry or homeless. While I agree that low-wage jobs are a form of slavery, instead of expecting us to refuse the only jobs we can find at times, you ought to work against discrimination and worker’s protections.

    Expecting us to forgo what may be our only option is like telling us to starve until we can find a better way to feed ourselves. This year I couldn’t even vote because I couldn’t afford to take time off work, and saw no point anymore because our politicians have been stealing any benefits we hoped for anyway.

    • April 8, 2011 4:23 am

      Luke

      As long as people don’t get together and say “no” to it, they will find more and more employers only making this kind of job. That is the point and issue. As long as McDonalds making 50,000 jobs is seen as anything to deal with the job situation, this will just encourage more and more jobs to be — like this.

      We need to look at how changes are to be done before we find the majority of the jobs are McWork.

      • Mike Enright permalink
        April 9, 2011 8:50 am

        Reading through the comments, I wonder if the problem you are looking at is not people who work at McDonalds, but people who eat there. If these employment options are unjust, you can’t really fault people for entering into them out of desperation. Instead the question to me should be whether or not it is unjust exploitation to patronize businesses that exploit low wage employees.

  14. Dan permalink
    April 8, 2011 4:02 pm

    Henry,

    I would appreciate if you could explain in more detail exactly as to how this vision of yours would look. I am open to other ideas, but I simply cannot see in any way, shape, or form, how solidarity against low wage jobs will change anything. They are a necessary part of a functional economy.

  15. digbydolben permalink
    April 11, 2011 6:54 am

    As a high school English teacher involved in one of the most demanding secondary curriculums in the world (the International Baccalaureate), I’d like to say something about teenagers holding down jobs after school hours.

    I guarantee you that I give so much work to my students that, if they are trying to do McDonald’s-type jobs after school (tedious, mind-numbing work on irregular shifts), there is no way that they will be able to do the work I assign well. What this contributes to is children from less-affluent families deciding not to enroll themselves in the kind of coursework that would get them into better colleges and universities, and, perhaps, that would contribute to lifting them and their families out of poverty. Believe me, I don’t like the fact that my classes are almost invariably subscribed to by the children of the rich, but the lower-middle and lower economic demographic in my schools know they won’t be able to devote the time to my work.

    When I was in high school and asked my dad if I could have a job after school, he said, “You already have a job, and I want you to do it well, so the answer is ‘No’.” The character-building and the sense of responsibility that is developed by one’s first few jobs can be gotten by working summers, and, meantime, I support the idea that hiring children during the school year is exploitation not only of child labour, but of the economic situation in which the working poor in America are increasingly finding themselves.

    If you want to live in a country wherein child labour is acceptable and the working poor are economic chattels, I suggest you come to India, where I now live (and teach in a VERY exclusive international school): from everything I’m reading about what’s going on in America, it seems to me that the Third World is spreading its values, its employment systems and its economic conditions to America–so that the lie called “the myth of Horatio Alger” can be maintained, and so that the rich can be well-positioned to flee abroad, to their “off-shore investments” when default is declared–leaving the “working poor” to turn to the neo-fascist “Tea-Partying” demagogues.

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