In my first regular job, I flipped burgers at McDonald's for $3.35 an hour.
That was the minimum wage when I was a high school junior in the mid-1980s.
I bring up those figures in light of an eye-popping news out of California, as reported by The Washington Post:
By 2022, the minimum wage in California will rise to $15. But the owner of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Sacramento plans to go ahead and raise the wages of his employees now, offering a huge bump to $17 to $18 from the $12 to $13 he pays now.
The sizable raise represents a possible new high-water mark for fast-food workers, say restaurant industry analysts, at a time when competition for even unskilled labor is rising amid low unemployment, greater immigration scrutiny and fewer teenagers seeking to work in fast-food jobs. While analysts can't say whether a $17 to $18 hourly wage is the highest in the country for front-line fast-food workers, it certainly appears to be among the higher ones, said David Henkes, a senior principal with Technomic, a restaurant research and consulting firm.
"We’re seeing a lot of operators that are in that $12 to $15 range, especially in higher-price areas like California, but that’s sort of a new threshold," he said. "In an era of 3.9 percent unemployment, restaurants — which typically are not seen as the most attractive of jobs — are struggling to not only fill jobs but then retain workers."
After all, Chick-fil-A closes its restaurants on Sundays so employees can rest. When is the last time you read a story about the Atlanta-based chain that didn't include a reference to the Christian faith of the chain's owners (or their beliefs on marriage)?
Interestingly, though, the Post story doesn't mention Chick-fil-A closing on Sunday, the owners' religion or even the gay-rights issue that has made so many headlines with that chain is concerned.
The report does point to Chick-fil-A's "culture":
Eric Mason, owner of the Chick-fil-A location in Sacramento, told a reporter for the local ABC news affiliate KXTV that he would be raising his workers' pay from $12 to $13 an hour to $17 to $18 an hour starting June 4, referring to the increase as a "living wage." In California, the minimum wage is $11 for employers with 26 or more workers and will go up $1 a year until 2022.
"As the owner, I'm looking at it big-picture and long-term," Mason said in an interview with a local news station. "What that does for the business is provide consistency, someone that has relationships with our guests, and it's going to be building a long-term culture."
Similarly, USA Today's short story is religion-free.
Am I suggesting that every Chick-fil-A story must be turned into a culture war piece? No.
But just as I saw a potential ghost in news that In-N-Out managers earn, on average, over $160,000 a year, I believe Chick-fil-A's culture — which includes religious influences — is relevant and worth a mention in reports such as these.
Here is how Fortune magazine chose to handle that background:
Chick-fil-A is known for conservative and traditional values such as across all locations. Those values have landed the restaurant chain in hot water before: in 2012, then-CEO Dan Cathy said Chick-fil-A supported the “biblical definition of the family unit” and that marriage equality was “inviting God’s judgement,” leading to protests and a national boycott.
Meanwhile, I'm contemplating whether I should stick with journalism or apply for a job with that Chick-fil-A in California. I kid. I kid.