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$20 an hour fast food pay: Sacramento once again comes up more than a few fries short
Dennis Wyatt new mug
Dennis Wyatt

I once flipped burgers.

Not for a living, mind you.

I did it as my first real job at age 14.

By that, I mean with a paycheck per se

Selling greeting cards door-to -door to buy a reflector telescope doesn’t count.

Nor does it count spending a summer with a friend three days a week bicycling the countryside around Lincoln and retrieving tossed aluminum cans and glass beer bottles with a split before school started that netted us each $700.

Before you speed dial the state labor board or Child Protection Services, the job was at the Squirrel Cage.

That’s right. The Squirrel Cage.

Kind of a nutso name from an old-fashioned drive-in that wasn’t much more than an oversized sheet metal box that my mom owned.

She worked seven days a week, often 12 hour days.

She didn’t complain. She wasn’t getting rich but that said as a  widow with four young kids it allowed her to house and feed us with the help of Social Security death benefits.

I might add that she never hesitated to open her home to teen friends of my older brothers who, for whatever reason, were kicked out of their homes.

People reared in the Great Depression and came of age during World War II really do look at things differently — including their moral obligation to others.

And although at the time she could have paid us less because we were family or were under 18, mom paid us minimum wage. It was as a whopping $1.30 per hour for employers with less than 25 workers. I  say whopping not to be sarcastic. That $1.30 an hour allowed me to buy new clothes to wear to school.

The same rules applied to us as her other employees. Actually she expected more, but that was a given, and we didn’t hesitate because we got the picture.

I wasn’t digging trenches, shoveling cow manure in a corral, or pounding  posts into the ground — things that I can tell you firsthand aren’t exactly a barrel of fun

So, in the scheme of things flipping burgers wasn’t hard or unpleasant work per se.

But it was clearly something that you didn’t want to be doing for the rest of your life.

This is a precursor for the latest legislation by blackmail scheme out of Sacramento.

Labor unions and the fast food industry — read that large corporation and not mom and pop concerns — have “embraced” new legislation to raise minimum wage for fast food workers that meet certain basic criteria to $20 an hour.

Here’s how the “blackmail” went down:

*In 2022, the legislature created a state-run council involving worker and business representatives to regulate the fast food industry when it came to working conditions and pay.

*The council would have the authority to raise minimum wages for fast food workers to $22 an hour.

*The fast food industry responded by qualifying a referendum for the statewide back in 2024 to overturn it.

*The legislature then restored funding to a dormant state agency that has the power to impose wage and work rules on businesses with multiple locations in the event voters sided with the fast food industry,

*Labor unions were furious. They got legislation introduced that would make big corporation such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell responsible for misdeeds of their independent franchisees.

The “compromise” — if it is approved — would:

*Raise the minimum wage to $20 — instead of $22 — for fast food workers for concerns that have 60 or more locations nationwide.

*Exempted are restaurants that make and sell their own bread — Panera Bread, as an example.

*Yank the referendum from the ballot.

*Backed off efforts — for now — to make corporations liable for the sins of independent franchisees.

All told, 500,000 fast food workers statewide meet the criteria.

It should be noted that the current $15.50 minimum wage is going up to $16 on Jan. 1, 2024

That’s because the law that took the minimum wage from $9 an hour in 2016 in California to $15 an hour by 2022, had a clause for inflation once the $15 threshold was reached.

It means an act of the legislature is no longer needed to raise the basic minimum wage. California is now on automatic pilot.

The annual inflation adjustment was a first for California minimum wage rules.

If everyone is honest, raising the minimum wage does a number of things:

*It helps the people with minimum wage jobs who really need money for basic needs.

*It has a ripple effect on other jobs that pay more on the lower end of the job market  in order for employers to retain workers.

*In California given minimum wage is now tied to the lowest pay a firm can compensate a person who meets the criteria to be salaried, there is a 100 percent correlation to those payroll costs rising.

*It also drives up the price of goods and services that the same people — as well as others — need and buy.

The bottom line, raising the minimum wage is essentially as effective as a dog spending its entire life chasing its own tail.

Yes, those who push for it spread the lie that it raises the quality of life of lower wage earners.

Like clockwork, politicians will find someone who is working in fast food in a bid to support their family or who has been a frontline fast food worker for two decades going on a third.

They will parade them in front of the media where their share gut-wrenching stories of their day-to-day-struggles and always make it clear raising the minimum wage would be a godsend.

The subliminal message is raising the minimum wage — especially with food workers — is empowering them to have better lives.


It empowers shallow-thinking politicians to fool the public as well themselves that they have done the heavy lifting society needs to raise all ships.

The solution is having people equipped with the skills — both hard and soft — to climb the mountain to obtain a more prosperous life instead of constantly trying to outrun the never-ending incoming waves of inflation while scrambling on the soft sand of low skilled employment is the real answer.

In a way, raising the minimum wage is the coward’s way out for those in Sacramento who have an abysmal record when it comes to reform that empowers people to enjoy economic success whether it is education, criminal justice or  making sure they don’t get entangled in society’s safety forever.

 Advocates of the $20 an hour deal act like it is the economic equivalent of a Happy Meal.

But in reality, it is more than a few fries short.