Slinging Hash

I ran across a story at Huffpo today that pointed out the travesty that the already absurdly low minimum wage doesn’t apply to “tipped” employees; in most states it’s still $2.13 (!) per hour, where it has been stuck for twenty years due to (surprise!) restaurant industry lobbying.  Needless to say, it is the worst restaurants (think Outback Steakhouse and the like), who push the hardest for this particular poverty (promoting) program.  Now that I have an iphone lying around, and am thus much more prone to use a calculator as I blog, I did some math, and the results aren’t pretty.

Working full time, as few restaurant servers do, that comes to $85.20 per week, for a princely annual haul of $4430.40 per year.  Before taxes; which Republicans across the board want to raise on these sorts of overpaid layabouts.  “Broadening the base,” and all that.

I worked in restaurants from 1979-1986, and it is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done; one is required to be immaculately dressed, utterly unflappable, heroically agile, and unfailingly pleasant, all in the hope that one’s customers will notice when they get the bill.  I was lucky enough, however, to work in nice places, where higher check averages and big crowds added up to lots of tip money, no matter how cheap customers tried to be.

At the time, Oregon was transitioning from its previous laissez faire system, wherein tips went untaxed to make up for a lower minimum wage, to one where wages were equalized, but tipped employes were automatically taxed on 8% of their sales, deducted from their wages.  Thus, those who worked at coffee shops were taxed on nearly every penny they made, and those who worked in tablecloth joints, as I did, barely bothered to pick up their paychecks, since after taxes they were often less than a hundred bucks for two weeks.

The key difference?  Working the best shifts at busy, high-end establishments, I was pulling down between $500-$800 per week in tips; less favored employees, even at the same restaurant, made half that or less.  Indeed, rather than firing the lazy or inept, management simply trimmed their hours to starve them out, a tactic that was equally effective.  So, despite the constant grind of laundry, ironing, hard labor, surly patrons and nonexistent opportunities for advancement, it was a living.

But that was a quarter century ago, when I had a crappy college apartment that rented for $150 a month, and even at the comparatively luxurious CHNN World Headquarters, a two-bedroom with a city view was $525, including utilities and an underground parking space, which I rented out at a profit.  The minimum wage in Oregon was three bucks and change across the board, but even high school age sales clerks made closer to $5.  My, how things have changed.  Now the minimum wage, even for tipped employees, is about eight bucks, but rents have tripled, and food and utilities nearly doubled.

But out by the interstates in Red America, single moms and struggling high school dropouts are pouring coffee and juggling plates for less than $13 per day, same as in 1991, and high school kids?  Forget it.  Who’s going to hire a gangly, inexperienced 15 year-old when three poised applicants with advanced degrees have already applied?   I may feel a bit guilty about the poor sap in China that assembled my iphone, but I feel just as bad eating at Denny’s across town.

In this global race to the bottom, it’s quite clear who the losers are, but less so the winners, if only because they are fewer and move in different circles than the rest of us.   Fortunately, learned elders like George Will can still see the forest for the trees, and to him, they’re almost the right height, except the tall ones could be taller and the shorter ones might benefit from a chainsaw and chipper.  Fresh off a valiant defense of corporate personhood and several years of increasingly maniacal climate denial, in a stern pro-Walker lecture today, he lamented that spoiled Wisconsin firemen and teachers lived in the fantasy world of Peter Pan, expecting salary and benefits scandalously higher than those in the “private sector.”   Earth to George:  Millions of people in the “private sector” earn two dollars and thirteen cents an hour. In 2012, in America.  Believing in fairies, confidence or otherwise, doesn’t change that.



  1. mikeinportc says:

    If the lazy slobs want to make more, they need to work harder, and suck up more. ( just channeling )
    The new feudalism , right on schedule. ;)

    Funny you should mention Outhouse Steakhouse . When O.S. first came here , a customer where I worked , Mike, “won” the landscaping contract . Mike had a small, but viable, greenhouse/landscaping business. What he didn’t have was wholesale sources for what he needed, nor a large enough credit line to get what he needed from the appropriate growers. Also , though his order would be above minimum$ , it wasn’t enough to avoid an exorbitant freight bill.
    That’s where we came in . We had more we could add , and only asked him for enough down payment to cover his freight, figuring that if something went wrong, we could eventually use the plants ourselves .

    The plants arrived with no trouble , well-exceeding O.S’ specs , in great condition, and in a timely manner. That was the end of good times with that job. They demanded the plants be there on a given day , and time. We arrived at the appointed time,with the first installment ( three parts) to meet Mike, and the OS …..person . Two problems were apparent. No place to plant them, and no water ! ( Not that plants ever need water in July) They want things when they want them , according to schedule , regardless . They had to sit on asphalt for days . Mike had to haul water from almost twenty miles away , twice/day . Btw, it was a hot, dry summer, and Mike’s well was was struggling to keep up with the regular demand on it .
    When the first planting areas were ready , there still was no water . Mike was glad to get them off the parking lot , but still was hauling water . A couple days later was the due date for the second load. When I arrived with them , the electricians were busily dropping conduit off the roof , onto the newly installed plants, pretty much reducing them to 2″ stubs . Saw some plywood piled on others. Again, beds not ready, and no water . They sat on hot asphalt for days, like the first ones Told Mike about the source of the damage . He picked up the third group so I don’t know their story.
    When it was all done , O.S. refused to pay him, demanding that he replace the damaged plants, no charge . He was tapped out by then, so couldn’t afford to buy more, but couldn’t afford not to . We allowed him to buy them on credit , so he could get paid ( & pay us ) .

    About 1 1/2 months later , a regular customer, with a new gas station called , wanting to dress the place up with annuals, for the opening . ( Labor Day weekend. Hanging baskets, and other annuals on Labor Day Weekend!) Told him I’d try to come up with something . ( I sometimes accomplish the impossible with overgrown houseplants, and half-dead perennials. ) As I was muttering to myself about that, I drove by a truck full of bright colors, in an empty downtown lot. Turned around, and went back, expecting Moonies, or similar. It was Mike ! Sold me some big, gorgeous, baskets ( some to be cut up & planted) for $6 ea . Should have been more like $26. I was paying out of my own pocket , and had just enough, or would have insisted on paying more. As I was leaving, he said( sincerely) ” Thanks. It’s grocery money . Wasn’t sure what I was going to do, if I didn’t sell anything today . :) Thanks again. ”
    He kept the business going for a little while longer ( a year?) but gave it up within two years. Should have been his big break, but it ruined him.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I learned that lesson long ago…. Big companies not only have built-in policies for “aging” invoices to 90 days or more; in the meantime they have lots of staff whose only job it is is to figure out a way to not pay them at all. Same with individuals, if they’re Republican. Run, don’t walk, from these types… ripping people off is part of their Randian Game Theory.