Voting with My Lunch Money

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Letter I just ran off to the local paper:

It pains me to read Mike West’s excuse of having to pay his servers a living wage as a cause for his business failure. I am a past supporter of Mona Liza and West Bros.[former West restaurants in Eugene] but I’ve become embarrassed to support such a local tycoon. Every media opportunity he gets, Mr. West continues to hammer the point that he doesn’t think food staff deserve minimum wage plus tips. His employees deserve a better boss than this. If any of them leave his restaurants and continue to work in the food business,please give me a call and tell me what business you work for. I will gladly support your new work environment over a Mike West establishment any day.”

Oregon is not typical in that food staff legaly must be paid minimum wage in addition to earning their tips. This issue has been ferociously fought by some of the local restaurant industry, who want to pay all of their food staff a sub-minimum wage to suppliment their tips earned. Minimum wage in Eugene is currently $7.05/hr, rising to $7.25/hr in the new year. Do you think this isn’t fair to employers? In case its been awhile since you’ve earned an hourly salary: $7.25 x 40 hrs x 52 weeks a year = $15080. And this assumes a full time schedule, and doesn’t take into account tips and taxes.

I’d love to make Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America mandatory reading for all business owners and for those in need of a dose of working class empathy. This wonderful yet scarier than hell book details the struggle of a journalist as she sets out to live on minimum wage in a number of entry level professions (waitressing, Home Depot, Wal Mart, Merry Maids). The one that broke the camel’s back: Wal Mart.

A number of issues really steam me when it comes to Eugene business man, Mike West complaining about what killed his “local brew pub”. First, and he later admits this in his interview, he ran a restaurant, not a brew pub. Second, his food was not cheap, it was high end BBQ and Italian meals. Third, he complains about not having the location attract the right clientel… that is part of his job as a restaurant, he is suppose to attract his clients to the location or change the restaurant’s location.

Even given their bad french fries, the McMenamins chain is a great example of making “local” brew-pubs work. When the location allows the room, they brew beer on site. And they haven’t made the mistake of confusing brew pubs with restaurants. Too bad West didn’t separate the two concepts of beer and food into multiple establishments like the McM brothers do.

However, as my letter indicates, its Mr. West’s continued non support of a living wage for his staff that irks me. His staff are good people: bright and intelligent. Basically, they would be ideal customers- if they were paid enough to afford his food.

One Comment

posted November 1st, 2006 at 4:45 pm

No one commented on this entry, and I just read it. I think it’s rediculous that people are expected to live on such miserably small wages.

I’ve worked on illegal pay (no overtime for example) in a struggling restaurant before. What isn’t mentioned is the horrible guilt trip I (and others I assume) was given for the failure of the restaurant to generate good revenue for the owner. I was delayed my paycheck, had hours rounded down, and told “for the sake of you paying your rent” not to share any portion of my tips with the buspeople or hostesses (who were paid less than me) at any time (“they might get used to it”).

- Coral

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