Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Minimum Wages and Career Changes

Via this posting I will introduce readers to -- Dennis Luehr of Campbell Hill, Illinois -- who should be an inspiration to at least two labor unions I know of but first a restaurant review. Tonight I dined at Domenico's Restaurant in Jefferson City, Missouri. While my meal of a house salad followed by blackened yellow fin tuna coupled with steamed broccoli was tasty the customer service was very poor. My waitress, "Sarah", was clearly new to the business based on her performance. Sarah left me stranded for 40 minutes between when I finished my salad and when she brought my tuna, plus she never asked me how the meal was, and I did not give her a chance to ask if I wanted dessert (and they had spumoni which I am addicted to!!!!!) because I asked one of her colleagues if I could pay my bill since I was tired of waiting for Sarah to return. On my 5 point scale I will have to give them a "2" for poor customer service but an excellent tuna steak.

So how would the US Congress respond? They would vote to increase Sarah's hourly wage by MANDATING an increase in the minimum wage rate -- not based on economics and excellent customer service but instead because of the media opportunities Congress will have available to show how they care about "helping" people. So what would be a better alternative than raising the minimum wage to improve performance? Instead of increasing Sarah's hourly pay from say $4.00 per hour to $7.00 per hour which equates to $480.00 per month why not let the restaurant owner decide how to spend this $480 on employee training? If I owned Domenico's I would give Sarah $200.00 per month for 3 months as a "training fund" to be used solely for eating at restaurants in the local area. I would further require Sarah to write a restaurant review (and turn in her receipts of course!!) for each venue she visits so we could discuss them in a one to one meeting. To improve customer service Sarah has to be an active restaurant consumer.

The good thing is that Sarah is young (maybe 20 years old but I hate to guess women's ages or their weights) so she has time to make mistakes, receive bad tips from unhappy customers, get fired, and improve along the way. But what if Sarah was 48 years old and lost her job when the company she worked at closed, what would she do? I would hope she would be inspired by Dennis Luehr's career transformation which I read about in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Mr. Luehr became unemployed when the coal mining company he worked for, Horizon Natural Resources, closed its operations. Instead of crying out like the aircraft mechanics at Northwest Airlines or the automobile workers in Detroit did when layoffs were announced that, " I have done this job for 35, 40, 45 years.............(fill in the blank).......so what am I to do now?" Mr. Luehr transformed himself from coal miner to accountant by getting a college degree at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale via a job re-training program. Now Mr. Luehr is on track to complete his master's degree in May 2008 along with his Certified Public Accountant designation.

To say I am impressed is an understatement.

Over the years I have seen numerous stories about coal miners in Pennsylvania and West Virginia who have been trapped or even died in mine accidents but I do not remember any news reports focused on accountants dying at their desks!!

Career changes are often necessary in our dynamic economy but as Mr. Luehr's example shows such changes can produce very positive results.

Personal motivation beats minimum wage "gifts" every time.


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