There is a lot of debate lately concerning the wages that fast-food workers are earning in the United States. While I’m not exactly sure what a fast food worker makes, I believe it is generally between $9.00-$11.00 per hour. Some cities have passed legislation raising the hourly pay of fast-food workers to a minimum of $15.00 per hour, and there is talk of a proposal to make this legislation go nationwide. While I’m all for every person with a job earning a fair wage, I do have some issues with this.
Firstly, I really have no feelings one way or the other on a personal level when it comes to these “demands”. Many of the opponents feel that because fast-food labor is generally unskilled, they shouldn’t expect to make more than they currently do. Proponents counter that the current wage is below poverty standards, and that no person who works a full time job should be in poverty. I agree somewhat with both arguments, and when I look at this “person to person” how could I be upset that somebody wants to get paid more money? We all want that for the most part, don’t we?
But I do have an issue with this legislation. I am an electrician. While I can’t say that I know how it works everywhere, I know that in many parts of the U.S. a licensed electrician is required to have 66 credit hours of schooling, or roughly 900 hours. An electrician is also required to attend at least 32 hours of additional schooling each year. The initial costs of schooling can range from $7000 to $12,000 depending on where you are located, and the yearly fees often run upwards of $600. An ICC code examination costs approximately $500, and is required every 3 years. An electrician also must own and maintain a specialized tool kit which can easily cost $3000 or more, as well as safety equipment, ladders, clothing, and other gear. Also, most electricians do not get paid holidays, health insurance, paid vacation, sick days, or retirement benefits. Those things come out of your own pocket. Another thing, an electrician is required to carry tradesman liability insurance. And to top it all off, many municipalities require you to pay a licensing fee just to perform work there, which can cost anywhere from $100 to $1000 dollars, and that license must be renewed every year. Today, the average electrician starts off at around $13.00 per hour.
Before I go on, there is a myth that electricians make upwards of $50.00 per hour. Well, you may bill at that, but when you factor in everything I listed above, including the fact that you are paying your own health insurance, trade insurance, vehicle insurance (which is also much higher for a commercial vehicle), fuel costs to and from the job, equipment, and a dozen other things, that “$50 per hour” tops off at less than half of that, and then you pay taxes on it. That, my friends, is why I no longer work in the field anymore.
Anyway, my gripe is not with fast food workers wanting and getting $15 per hour, it is with the nature of the building trades. If I’m an 18 year old kid looking to get myself a trade, or possibly a 22 year old just out of the service looking to start a new career, why would I go through all of that hassle when I can just go to my local Wendy’s, or McDonald’s, or wherever, and make the same money with none of the time, expense, or training needed to be a tradesman? Because I like working with my hands? That may be part of it. Most people who willingly seek out a job in the building trades do so because they like the nature of the work, but they also do it because they know that they will make more money than you would make at the local fast food joint, at least until now.
So is it really worth it anymore to become an electrician, or carpenter, or plumber, or HVAC tech, or cabinet maker? Speaking for myself, I can guaran-damn-tee you that it’s much easier slinging French fries than it is working on a construction site where there is a very real possibility that you can be seriously injured every time you strap on your tool belt and walk past that cyclone fence. Trades work is physically intensive, technically demanding, and downright dangerous when it comes down to it. It many major cities, and pretty soon all over the country, a person can walk into a McDonald’s and earn $15 per hour. You need no specialized training, no specialized equipment, no big out layout of cash for schooling, and licenses, and insurance, and safety gear. You don’t have to worry about falling from a ladder, or getting zapped by 600 volts, or reading blueprints and technical drawings, or ordering special parts that can make or break a job. You only need to be able to press a button with a photo of a BigMac on it. I read somewhere that the average fast-food employee receives an average of 4 hours of training! That’s not 4 hours per week, or month, or year; that’s 4 hours, total…
So, once again I speak only for myself, but the next time a kid asks me if he should become an electrician, I’m going to strongly encourage him to put on a shirt and tie, go fill out a job application at the local fast food joint, and learn how to clearly say, “would you like fries with that?”