CANTON – A “help wanted” sign was tapped on the door of Little Italy Canton that was more straightforward than others in the area.
“It’s a busy restaurant,” the sign reads.
“Yes, you’re expected to work the entire time you’re clocked,” and “No, you can’t rest every week.”
It goes on to taunt and ridicule, warning: “No, you can’t spend your time on social media, texting your important partner or playing games on your cell phone,” and, “If you miss it in the first place. hours, you can’t rest every week. ”
It continues, “Yes, you are expected to show up on time, in appropriate attire, with proper hygiene and courtesy.”
Salary, as it were, depends on work ethic.
Owner Jessika T. Furnace, who wrote the notice, said it reflects her personality and the way she manages her business.
He said it was a necessary warning given the hiring pool was available.
“There aren’t a lot of people who want to work,” he said. “We really have to put there what we are, and aren’t, looking for, and it’s a sad situation that we have to do that.”
The reason for this, he thinks, is because a lot of people are hiring.
“It’s a labor market where people can pick and choose where they want to work,” he said. “It’s a bad thing because it reduces the group of people you can hire.”
The pandemic didn’t help either.
“Before COVID-19, I thought I had 13 to 15 employees,” he said. “When we reopened, I had 5 people.”
He blamed much of that on the unemployment assistance provided in the early stages of the pandemic.
“Unemployment given by almost everyone during COVID is definitely a major factor,” he said.
Even if less obvious, the signs adorning the windows of most businesses across the northern country seem to want help. Is it because people no longer want to work?
Not exactly, says Terry R. Vernsey, co-owner of Buster’s Restaurant in Ogdensburg.
“There’s a help that wants to mark every business in town because everyone is fighting for a small group of people,” he said. “In the northern country, every year we have a small number of children and population, and every business is looking for workers, from the gas station to the dollar store to Walmart to Buster, so it’s hard to get and keep staff. .Everyone is trying to compete for the same workforce. ”
As a result, he said, “any business will tell you that they have trouble finding people to hire and getting people to show up, and the problem now is a lot of them don’t stay.”
Brian Chezum, associate professor of economics and co-chair of the economics department at St. Lawrence University in Canton, thinks the pandemic could be fundamentally changing the attitudes of workers in minimum wage work.
“Instead of arguing that people are more lazy or want a better work-life balance, we need to ask what has changed so that people are less willing to do the jobs of wages, “he said. “People are good at signaling that they don’t spend $ 10 per hour. Even in Canton, you can’t easily hire $ 15 per hour.”
The statewide $ 15 minimum wage in New York was implemented as part of the 2016-17 budget. Since December 31, 2016, the first in a row of wage increases has already begun. Prices vary based on region and industry “because increases are calibrated to give businesses ample time to adjust,” according to the Department of Labor.
Typically, New York City employers with 11 or more people are required to pay workers $ 15 per hour starting in 2018, up from $ 11 in 2016 and $ 13 in 2017. Employers of 10 or fewer people in NYC must adopt the $ 15 minimum wage in 2019 Long Island and Westchester rolled out to the new overall minimum by Dec. 31.
But the northern nation, and the rest of the state of New York, has a minimum wage of $ 13.20 per hour for most workers. That took effect on December 31 and will remain until the end of 2022. The Budget Division and the Department of Labor will determine the next progress. The total salary outside of New York City continues to rise each year from $ 9.70 in 2016.
Other minimum wages in the industry are different. All fast food workers in New York, for example, are required to receive a minimum of $ 15 per hour. That change took effect in New York City in 2018, and the rest of the state took over last summer.
The base wage for food service workers with a tip is smaller – the $ 13.20 per hour rate falls to an $ 8.80 wage paid by the employer, plus the maximum $ 4.40 tip credit. That rate took effect outside of NYC at the end of last year. State law allows employers in most industries to satisfy the minimum wage by combining a “cash wage” paid by the employer with a credit or allowance for tips from customers. The tip credit represents money that would not have to be paid by the employer if that amount was made through tips. Employers are required to cover the difference if a tipped worker does not reach the overall minimum wage.
Some workers who quit jobs at the minimum wage during the pandemic said poor wages and conditions.
“I don’t understand how businesses expect to find permanent employees at the minimum wage,” said Sydney E. Harris, who left service industry jobs around Potsdam during the pandemic.
She says she has to work hard as a hostess and barista when businesses first open and people flock, but has to deal with the horrible disrespect of people who don’t pay attention to instructions. of COVID-19.
“It’s really not worth the pay to suffer that treatment,” he said. “I feel completely taken advantage of.”
“I really think the mentality behind employers is that COVID fires a lot of people in jobs that they expect tons of applicants for a position that doesn’t pay much,” Ms. Harris. “But the workers will no longer suffer from that. Things are not the same after COVID. ”
He advised job applicants to take advantage of today’s opportunities to find good jobs.
“There’s no point in working a job where you’re burned out for two weeks for someone who doesn’t value your time,” he said.
Claire Pickard, who also worked in service industry jobs during the pandemic, described the experience as dehumanizing, and rebuked the idea that workers were becoming increasingly lazy.
“During COVID, when you work, you feel like you’re going to be replaced,” he said. “While everyone is saying things like ‘nobody wants to work and everyone is lazy,’ you think to yourself, ‘really not, here I am working really hard.'”
“It becomes clear that no one thinks these jobs are valid, and as a result the same people have no issue reaming you if the service takes too long due to a lack of businesses,” he added.
Money, or lack thereof, provides little comfort.
“Actually, I think I spent more money on fuel to get to work than I did,” he said. “You get paid the minimum wage and then have to act like you have to appreciate it.”
For Ms. Pickard, it seems that workers in the service industry “do not exist as human beings.”
Axel Fair-Schulz, associate professor of history at SUNY Potsdam, thinks this is the natural consequence of capitalism, which provides a profit for the human good.
“I would say that capitalism has always been bad, but now it’s bad on steroids,” he said.
He cites the 1980s as a turning point, “when the Keynesian economy ended and the neoliberal paradigm began.”
“This is the policy framework that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher have in common,” he said, focusing on union busting, privatization, elimination of public services, and deregulation across the board.
As a result, he said the U.S. economy has slipped into a “gig economy,” where there is little job security and wages are depressed.
He acknowledged that wage labor itself “is an advantageous relationship in which workers are exploited by their employers. Employers try to make a profit, and that profit can be increased by injecting as much surplus as possible from the employees.
“These existing problems and injustices,” he said, “became more focused during the pandemic.”
These problems include not being able to cope with basic necessities despite working out your life.
“If you think about food, rent, medical bills, student debt, etc., $ 15 an hour is not a living wage, and you can work endless hours but never succeed in dig your way out of the hole, “Mr. – Schulz said.
Given these conditions, he said it was perfectly reasonable for workers to refuse minimum wage jobs.
“If your salary is so low that you can no longer live off of it,” he said, “why would you work when it will consume you at full capacity and you cannot survive in any way?”
He praised the fact that workers have more power now, but did not think it would last without great collective action.
“It’s not something that developed overnight or can be fixed overnight just because it’s so much better with today’s workers that employers are desperate,” he said. “What’s wrong is the whole system.”
“Workers in Canton or Potsdam can’t change the system,” he added. “But they can start by learning to think of themselves as part of a group or class rather than individuals.”