Minimum Wage Employment: The Nature of the Beast

About 6 months ago, I (deliberately, mindfully, thoughtfully) accepted a job that pays $10.25/hour – the minimum that my employer is required, by Ontario law, to pay me.

I wash dishes at a local restaurant, 5 nights a week. My “job description,” which I’ve never actually had explicitly laid out for me, is to wash dishes, close the kitchen at the end of the night, mop the kitchen, and take out the kitchen garbage.

What I’m about to say here is not as outrageous as it might sound. And I don’t believe it belies a questionable work ethic.

Minimum wage buys minimum effort.

This is a concept I’ve been working on for more than a year. And it’s backwards to the way head offices, managers, supervisors (etc) see things.
I’ve worked in management myself, and I’ll be the first to admit that when something really crappy had to be taken care of, I’d find the nearest part-timer (almost invariably, also a minimum-wage employee) to see to it. Courtney Watson, thank you and I’m sorry.
The way I thought about it at the time was “I’ve put in my time doing [insert crappy task here], THIS is why I took the management position – so I wouldn’t have to do it anymore.” I think this is a pretty common attitude among managers.

When I started the dishwashing gig, I found that it afforded me about 25 hours a week to just THINK. Here are some things I’ve been thinking about, with a little bit of discussion. I refer to them as Survival Lessons from the (Dish)Pit of Despair.

Exactly what am I comfortable with selling for the bare minimum payment?

This is probably something that we could all benefit from examining in our own lives, regardless of what pay-scale we’re on. Consider that whatever you’ve agreed to get paid for doing whatever you’ve agreed to do is YOUR personal minimum wage.

Exactly what is expected of me by my customer (“customer” being “the one who is buying my life by the shift”)?

Get an explicit job description. Know what you’re being expected to sell. That’s just good business. If you don’t even know what your product is, how can you identify its value?

Employment is the only commodity-exchange (that I can think of) in which the buyer alone sets the price, quantity, and quality of the goods in question.

And when the “commodity” is, quite literally, your LIFE, shouldn’t you have a say about what you think its value is, about how much of it you’re selling (in hours), and about how much of it you’re selling (in experience, education, etc.)?

Minimum wage does not buy my experience, my initiative, my creative thinking, or the right to tell me my job description has just been expanded to include snaking toilets.

I strive to be satisfactory. THAT’S what minimum wage buys. And if you want to temporarily “expand my job description,” you’d better ask nicely, with no expectation that I have to agree if I want to keep my job. Because snaking toilets, for example, has nothing to do with washing dishes, mopping kitchens, closing kitchens, or taking out garbages.

What I agree to get paid for washing dishes does not determine my value as a person.

It determines my value as a dishwasher.

An employer-employee relationship does not trump a human-human relationship, regardless of pay-scales.

Manners matter. Taking a job means agreeing to perform a specified task in exchange for money. It doesn’t mean sacrificing dignity, self-respect, or kindness, no matter how much or how little you get paid.

These are the discussions that have been running in my head. Anyone else want to weigh in?

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