Should a person be paid $15 an hour to dunk fries in boiling grease?
In 2015, a US Army Sergeant with four years’ experience makes $14.66 an hour. This is determined by taking the monthly base pay, dividing by the average 22 work-days in a month and further dividing by 8 hours in the average workday. Of course, the average workday in the Army is rarely eight hours and the work week is not always five days. In Afghanistan, the soldiers that worked for me in the Detention Facility worked a 12 hour shift for four days, then had one day off. The 12 hour shift did not include pre-shift and post-shift briefings/debriefings and equipment draw and turn-in. It was a 12 hour shift, but a 13 hour day. No overtime pay.
Before a soldier can be consider for Sergeant (and the $14.66 an hour) they must have a minimum 3 three years of service in the Army, be experienced in his job, pass a physical readiness test, meet weight standards and be selected as the best among their peers. For the fry cook to qualify for the proposed $15 an hour, he has to fill out an application.
Just for comparison, an Army Basic Trainee makes $8.89 an hour for the six weeks he is in Basic Combat Training. As a Private E-2, he will make $9.85. As a Private First Class he will max out at $11.68 and as a Specialist, he will max out at $13.93. His next promotion will be to the big bucks $14.66 an hour a new Sergeant makes.
If we’re going to pay a French fry dunker $15 an hour, how much should we be paying a Sergeant to lead a team in combat? The fry cook works in an air conditioned restaurant. The Sergeant works in a Mid-Eastern country wearing 80 pounds of equipment, enduring 100 degrees temperatures. The fry cook gets regular breaks and free meals. The Sergeant gets free meals too, the infamous Meals, Ready to Eat. If the fry cook messes up and burns the fry’s, he throws them out. If the Sergeant messes up, a team member may die. The fry cook is responsible for his apron and hair net. A Sergeant assigned as a tank commander is responsible for a $4.5 million dollar tank and a three man crew. So how much is what the Sergeant does worth? Would you do his job for $14.66 an hour?
Is there something wrong here? Should we be paying people $15 an hour, because they “need” it or because they are worth it? Are we changing the time-honored practice of making yourself more valuable to your employer through experience and education in order to earn more money, instead making your salary based on need? This sounds all too familiar. I think it’s the major plot line of Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” where need becomes the driving factor in employment compensation and the economy slowly crashes. Are we heading down that road? Are we there? Or are we still at a crossroad and it’s not too late to make the right turn?