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A Little History of the Minimum Wage

The fast food and restaurant industry today is as bad in working conditions as what author Upton Sinclair wrote in “The Jungle,” a 1906 classic about the meatpacking industry. The fast food and restaurant industry is the 21st century's version of "The Jungle"—a sweatshop where workers are enduring horrible health and safety conditions with no paid sick leave and no healthcare. Workers work sick with ailments like cuts, burns, flu, pinkeye and H1N1—do you think these maladies miraculously stay out of your food? It’s not the workers fault; it’s the owners for putting greed above your health. This is not good for the wage slaves nor their families and not to the healthy customers putting their trust in the food they receive. Owners expect customers to tip to compensate for the low wages. Tipping dates back to slavery and originated in Europe. When tipping was brought to America in the late 1800s to 1900s, the Americans at that time rejected the practice as undemocratic and un-American, and the employers should pay their workers and not the customers. Then the anti-tipping movement spread from the U.S. back to Europe and succeeded in stopping the tipping, which is why there’s very little tipping in Europe at this time. But here in the U.S., the anti-tipping movement was squashed by the restaurant industry and by the old Pullman train car company, both of which wanted the right to hire newly freed slaves and let them rely only on tips for their income. This was codified into the very first minimum wage law in 1938, which meant that the minimum wage for tipped workers was 0 and in 80 years has only been increased to $2.13 an hour for these workers unless their state’s adopted a state minimum like California. Applebees and Olive Garden have 4-5 percent profitability, considered high for the industry, yet the corporation says they shouldn’t have to pay “our own workers wages.” The customers are becoming outraged that they have to subsidize this multibillion dollar industry in a number of ways. First by paying tips to compensate for their low wages and second by paying the taxes that help these workers survive by the use of public assistance. Olive Garden costs the American public $200,000 a year in public assistance; however, the total full-service restaurants’ cost to the American public is a whopping $9.5 billion in taxpayer funded public assistance. Think of this the next time politicians say we need to cut social programs to cut budget expenditures. The workers at Olive Garden and Applebees—both Darden Restaurant franchises—cannot afford to eat where they work. The same is true for fast food workers. In fact, there are similarities in all low wage jobs. Yes, it is time for $15 to $18 an hour now, and right to be represented by a union of their choice.

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