State Views: Restaurants pay fairly based on experience, skills

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Ed Lump
Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Are restaurant jobs worthwhile? I emphatically answer that question “yes.” However, an ongoing campaign is trying to get the public to think otherwise.

The last few months have brought several rounds of targeting restaurant chains. These are organized by different groups demanding a $15 minimum wage.

While these groups target restaurant chains, any mandated changes regarding wages and benefits would affect all restaurants. That includes small mom-and-pop operations, independently owned restaurants and the independent owners of franchise restaurants.

In response, surprisingly, I'm going to channel my inner “Ashton Kutcher.” In August, Kutcher gave a speech at the Teen Choice Awards. Obviously his audience was primarily teenagers. He revealed to them that his original name was actually “Chris Ashton Kutcher.” He then listed a number of entry-level jobs he had, including sweeping floors and washing dishes, on his way to becoming the wealthy and very successful Ashton Kutcher.

Kutcher told them: “I've never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job.”

To me, the message was: You have to start somewhere, so get on with it, build your resumé and start on the path to success. You can find Kutcher's speech on YouTube.

I'm sure many readers have their own similar stories about jobs they held on their own paths. I know I do. I was a “soda jerk,” clerk in a pharmacy, laborer in a gelatin factory, a data processor, painter, dishwasher and a bartender. (The experience was so valuable; I should have been paying them.) These were all minimum-wage jobs that I was just lucky to have.

If restaurants and other retailers were forced to pay $15 an hour and benefits regardless of experience, the result would be fewer jobs, which is a much higher cost to society.

At a certain wage level, technology (for example, touch-screen ordering or automated pizza makers) and/or workers with higher skills would replace many of those workers. In addition, many who lost their jobs would likely become unemployable.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47 percent of workers who earn the federal minimum wage are teenagers, while 71 percent are younger than 25.

At least now, entry-level, low-wage employees have shots of improving themselves by getting promoted or developing the skills that will enable them to get better jobs within the restaurant industry or elsewhere.

The restaurant industry pays a fair wage to employees based upon their experience and skill set. Restaurants train inexperienced workers—teaching them the skills they will need to succeed on any career path. In fact, one out of three Americans got their first job in a restaurant (source National Restaurant Association survey).

The restaurant industry is a wonderful industry. We help millions of our employees develop skills, develop pride, build careers and fulfill their dreams. We need not be ashamed. We make our country a better place.

Ed Lump is president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association; phone 608-270-9950; email elump@wirestaurant.org.

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