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The new California math: Soda cup slingers just as valuable as beginning elementary teachers
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

What is more important to your kid’s future — a burger flipper at McDonald’s putting together a Happy Meal or a teacher in charge of their education?

You will be able to  answer that question on Nov. 5, 2024.

That’s when you, as a voter, will have a chance to decide the fate of the FAST Recovery Act that breezed through the California Legislature last year.

The law establishes a 10-member council empowered to set minimum wages as well as standards for hours and working conditions for California’s fast food workers.

The International Franchise Association and the National Restaurant Association in December submitted more than 1 million signatures from voters in support of a ballot referendum to stop the law.

California law requires 620,000 signatures to place the law on the ballot. As of last week, the Secretary of State’s office deemed more than 712,000 signatures were valid.

A judge blocked the Jan. 1, 2023 implementation of the law for fast food wages that could  be raised as high as $22 an hour by the end of  this year pending the signatures being verified.

And now that enough signatures have been verified state law kicks in that requires any new law that qualifies as a ballot  referendum be held in abeyance until voters weigh in.

California’s minimum wage for all workers is now at $15.50 an hour, having jumped 50 cents at the start of the year.

Based on a 40-hour week, a $22 per hour wage comes to $45,760 a year.

McDonald’s crew members usually need only a high school diploma to get hired.

The average — not the lowest — salary for a beginning elementary teacher in a Golden State public school district of 1,000 students or less according to the California Department of Education is $46,844 a year.

It takes a four-year degree plus a fifth year of college to become a teacher.

That’s just $1,124 less a year or 54 cents less per hour based on 40 hours a week.

And if you work overtime flipping burgers, that $22 an hour pay soars up to $33.

And as a teacher who can count on working more than 40 hours a week, they receive not a cent more because they are salaried.

Then there is the issue of the cost of an education.

The applicant requiring to have a high school diploma is nothing out of pocket for their education.

If the teacher goes to a community college and then to the California State University system, they are out $39,569 for tuition alone.

If they opt to go five years at the CSU system — their least expensive four-year higher education option — they’re out $61,655 for tuition,

There is something perverse about a legislature that controls public school funding creating a situation where a worker at Chipotle’s, Domino’s or McDonald’s has the potential to make $45,760 a year working 40 hours a week while an “average’ small school district teacher makes not just $1,124 more a year but has to invest at least $39,000 and five years in order to do so.

Of course, proponents of a minimal skill job be required by state law to pay almost 50 percent more than the state minimum wage will point out fast food workers rarely get 40 hours a week.

Fair enough.

But then how does a soda cup slinger that makes $22 an hour square with the pay of a bilingual teacher aide?

That’s a comparison of apple to apples although one might be am ambrosia and the other a red decision.

Manteca Unified is a large district.

For a $16.12 an hour job as a Manteca Unified bilingual aide to work four hours a day, applicants are required:

*To submit one letter of recommendation with a signature.

*Have college transcripts showing completion of 48 hours of college semester unit, or an associate of arts degree, or lasted both parts of the Paraprofessional Certification.


You can do that for $16.12 an hour or flash your high school diploma and make $22 an hour.

Go ahead and play the delayed gratification card.

To those that don’t grasp the concept of delayed gratification, McDonald’s is their kind of place to stay put.

And for those that do get what delayed gratification is all about and can deliver, they are also smart enough to take the fast food job while going to college.

While the job of an education aide may fit into their career path or play to their strengths they are building on by going to college, it would pay about a third less per hour.

This means schools districts that are already in constant need of qualified teacher aides would not even be competitive within a dollar or so of “fast food minimum wage” jobs.

The legislature could dictate teacher aide hourly pay and teacher salaries rise to either be equal or have a larger degree of separation from $22 an hour jobs boxing pizza.

After all, they dictate school funding.

But in this case they are up against the same wall as the fast food operator that they are trying to foist a $22 an hour minimum pay mandate on.

That wall is the need to stay financially viable.

The state is not like the federal government. They can’t literally print money.

The private sector fast food operator has to cover all sorts of costs including wages and benefits — the biggie — and do so without pricing away business.

The state, while it doesn’t have to show a profit, does have to pay the bills. In order to increase pay for teacher aides universally in California as they’re trying to do with fast food workers they need to take money from elsewhere such as the state prison system or health care for those not in this country legally.

The state needs to let their initial meddling with wages in the marketplace finish reverberating before they start carving out exceptions for employment sectors that successfully bend their ear via social media such as fast food workers, who clearly intend to make it a career.

Minimum wage just reached $15.50 six weeks ago after the legislature implemented a law that  started jacking it up in steps from $8 on Jan. 1, 2016.

There are fast food places in California that pay starting wages that are already $1.50 to $3 above the new minimum wage of $15.50 an hour.

Over tinker too much and it wot be long until $7 a dozen eggs and $13 Happy Meals will look like a fire sale.