Monthly Archives: September 2015

In Honor of Labor

Something to ponder on this Labor Day.

Bedford is a pleasant town nestled in the rolling limestone hills of South Central Indiana, about twenty miles from Bloomington, Hoosier football, and the site where Breaking Away was filmed. There are some good local restaurants—Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ is a must—along with every fast-food franchise known to man. The people are friendly, kind and they work hard.

I missed the Holiday Inn Express’s free breakfast Sunday morning, so I headed for the reliable alternative, McDonald’s. The Egg McMuffin is a decent, balanced breakfast: protein (lean meat, fried egg), fat (a slice of American cheese), and carbohydrate (a toasted whole-grain English muffin) totaling 290 calories. I get two, dump one muffin and one cheese slice, combine the remainder and I’m good for a few hours.

I pulled into Mickey D’s and counted sixteen cars in the drive-thru lanes. I thought the counter might be faster, so I parked and went inside. It wasn’t any better.

Seven people were in line. There were three trays on the counter waiting for orders and one take-out slip. The monitor above the product rack showed twelve drive-thru orders, and I could still see a line of cars through the window.

Seven people working their butts off behind the counter.  The man at the register was in his late 50s or early 60s, as was the woman who wheeled a couple of three-gallon iced-tea buckets towards the back.  Three young men were putting breakfasts together as fast as they could. One middle aged woman put orders into bags or on the trays while another manned the register at the window.

I got my order after about 10 minutes. There were fifteen more people in line and another sixteen cars in the drive-thru lanes when I left.

There have been a lot of smarmy comments about “Sally McBurgerflipper” wanting fifteen bucks an hour for doing jobs those critics think should be done by lazy, sullen teenagers wanting pin money.  But the average age of fast food workers is 29. Many of those people have more than one job and have families to support. In rural areas, Wal-Mart and fast-food might be the best options for those who aren’t college material. Those jobs are relatively immune to economic downturns, but that is little consolation when there are 30 applicants for one job.

I’ve done more than a few minimum-wage jobs. I was a busboy at a bowling-alley restaurant for 75¢ an hour; I got a raise to 90¢ after a month. I was an orderly at our local hospital when I was 17, making about $2.50 an hour. One of my jobs was digging impacted stool out of a neurologically impaired man. I was a stocker at the student bookstore in college.

Any honest work, no matter how menial or humble, is good work. Every job is worth doing well and those who work hard deserve to be treated well. I always kept in mind the advice my family doctor gave me when I told him I wanted to go to medical school:

“Whatever you decide to do, do your best. If you want to dig ditches the rest of your life, be the best damned ditch-digger that ever lived.”

I have more respect for Benny, the guy at the McDonald’s I go to every Sunday, than I have for some rich bastard on Wall Street who wrecked the economy and then had the balls to ask the Feds to bail his sorry ass out.

I respect one of my church’s parishioners who, after thirty years in IT became a casualty of the recession. He got a job at J.C. Penney and is far more reliable than many of the much younger employees. He interviewed for a job in his field when the market started to improve a couple of years ago, but the boss said, “I can hire someone right out of college and pay him a third of what I’d have to pay you.”

I’ve nothing but contempt for the CEO who, no matter how well the people actually doing work perform, believes “it’s never enough.”

Never make assumptions about the people in whose shoes you’ve never walked. You might find yourself among them someday, feasting on your own rhetoric.

Happy Labor Day.