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OPINION - Not worth that much

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) A few years ago Wal Mart had greeters inside their front door. “Hello, welcome to Wal Mart” they’d say. These jobs actually had three business purposes: First, having a person at the door cut down on theft. Second, they'd sped up the return/exchange process by putting stickers and pre-screening items that we being brought back to the store. Lastly, they were part of a Wal Mart corporate program to build positive community image. Many of the people who were hired for these jobs were the elderly, the disabled, or veterans.

Suppose Wal Mart greeters demanded $15-an-hour. Would a business be able to rationalize paying a so-called living wage to people whose job is to say "hello, welcome to Wal Mart”?

A few years ago Wal Mart decided that greeters didn’t bring enough value to the company. Those positions have now been eliminated. The Wall Street Journal ran a report earlier this year that Wal Mart has an under-staffing problem now, and has trouble restocking their shelves because staffing levels are too thin.

That’s the same issue McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s are facing today. These businesses face incredible price pressures every day. (Example: Burger King franchisees complain that the double-cheeseburger, which the corporation requires them to offer on the value menu, is a loss-leader. McDonalds, which says their dollar menu was one of their most successful promotions ever, says it can’t hold the line at $1 because of rising food costs.) Their business model depends on part-time workers, mostly students and seniors. The jobs they offer are not intended to allow people to pay their rent and cover living expenses. So what’s a company to do when people who’d otherwise be employed are now making up the bulk of their labor force? Does the pay rate suddenly change because the types of people filling the jobs have changed?

The answer is no.

McDonalds knows what will happen when my lunch costs $10 instead of $6. I’ll eat there less often.

There simply isn’t a $15-an-hour market for people to flip hamburgers. Nor is there a similar wage for people who make hotel beds. Or for people who change oil in cars. Or many other low-skill jobs.

These jobs are intended to be the lower rungs on a person’s employment ladder. Someone who has good basic skills: shows up on time, has a good attitude, works hard, etc. will find other opportunities open to them. The way to make $15-an-hour is to have $15-an-hour skills.

I have a message for fast food workers who are walking off the job today. Are you the kind of worker that your boss would want to give more money to?

Chris Conley