Notes from ChicanAztlan: Minimum Wage

The wealth of this great nation begins with the sweat from blue collar and service sector jobs. It should be rewarded.

By John Edward Rangel
Published on LatinoLA: October 10, 2014

Notes from ChicanAztlan: Minimum Wage

My take on this issue comes from 'the pit' where I scour dishes in a French restaurant in Pacific Beach just south of La Jolla. I've been here for almost eight years now where I earn $10.50 an hour. Under California's new minimum wage law, fourteen months from now (January 1, 2016) -- after I've been scrubbing plates, rinsing wine glasses and sorting silverware for ten years -- I'll be earning .50 cents above minimum wage. That's a fact, not an opinion.

I work the dinner or night shift. Many of my co-workers have day jobs in other restaurants or hotel kitchens, primarily from La Jolla/Del Mar stretching south to downtown San Diego. Some of these men and women have been baking cookies, chopping vegetables or serving both for over twenty years. Owners come and owners go. New restaurants open as others close, but the rank and file remains pretty stable. This is the viewpoint I have formed after asking, listening and sometimes just quietly observing.

Prior to the great recession business was good and staffs were bloated in a lot of industries. When the economic crisis struck, many restaurants and hotels trimmed payroll by essentially not replacing the natural attrition that occurs in any business. Some workers move to other companies where they feel the grass is greener. Others retire or begin career changes. Some leave to have children and then decide to return part time and no longer full time.

Whatever the reason, the result was that the shrinking staffs were required to carry a heavier load. At first this was possible but as staffs were turned into skeleton crews and the economy began to fire up, a breaking point began happening in work places across the region. Every business, regardless of its size, has a minimum number of employees that it needs to operate. Many companies around here are at that point today. There is no nonessential employee fat to trim The crews are all tired bone and exhausted muscle.

Of course they (the owners) could also increase staffs and use this as an excuse to keep wages down but with an improving economy you'll still have underpaid and overworked crews. (This Chicano has a suspicious feeling that owners would love nothing more)

The great recession was the job killer. It gave owners a reason not to replace departed workers and to ask for each worker to deliver more without a wage increase. The mantra was, 'If we don't do more with less we'll go out of business and nobody will have a job!' Now there are no jobs left to kill. Not if owners want to stay functionally competitive. What they stand to lose are profits. They won't make as much from a rising minimum wage. But they'll have to pay it if they wish to remain operational.

The American working class is still the great machine it has always been. The wealth of this great nation begins with the sweat from blue collar and service sector jobs. They've demonstrated their worth. It should be rewarded.


About John Edward Rangel:
Born in East LA. ELAC grad. CSULA alumnus, presently living in one of the poorest barrios in eastside Tijuana.
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