WINDHAM — Everyone who works a minimum-wage job understands the consternation at having to wait for their disjointed schedules to come out each Thursday, making sure the hours they work at their two or three jobs line up so they are not late for or absent from one job because of another, and the consternation at people exclaiming to them, “If you want a job with higher pay, get a skill.” Or “You do not deserve $15 an hour to put a burger on a bun.”

Instead of mandating an increased minimum wage, allow workers and companies the option of paid vacation time or sick days to cover illness. Raising the minimum wage will only pass down labor costs to the consumer, and thereby force businesses to close shop or lay off workers.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the retail industry employs up to 15 million people in the United States and the food service industry employs 5.12 million, accounting for roughly 18 percent of the workforce, all told.

As companies consolidate and the internet eats away at brick and mortar stores, retail workers are expected to give outstanding customer service and give consumers reasons to shop in person instead of online. But how do retail companies expect to keep customers coming when their employees, those who man the registers, bag groceries or carry out furniture and keep the store running, are not given sufficient care? They do not. Instead, they let the free market do their thinking for them.

As a worker in retail, you make minimum wage per hour and work an irregular schedule with no benefits and no paid time off. Granted, some employers try to make up for this, but most do not. Most retail workers are working there as a second job in addition to a first job that has the same issues. When they are tired, hungry and flustered, they are expected to be happy to serve customers, despite the low pay and lack of benefits.

The same can be said for food service workers. Their median wage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $19,630 per year, or $9.44 per hour (many fast-food workers make minimum wage). They cannot live on what they make, even working two or three jobs. Plus they, just like retail workers, have grueling jobs. They have to be on their feet for 10 hours at a time with no break and almost no benefits, with the exception of a free shift meal at some places.

When minimum-wage workers demand a raise for the job they do because they are not earning enough to live on, even with two jobs, they do not get one. Then they ask for a raise through campaigns such as Fight for $15, which demands that retail workers and kitchen workers get paid $15 an hour or a livable wage so they can afford to pay basic expenses. Most of these people, after all, do not and cannot afford an education to improve their lot in life, and they know it. The argument “If you want more per hour, then you should get an education and a higher-paying job” does not cut the mustard.

The Fight for $15 movement has forced legislators here in the state of Maine to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour and then to $12 an hour by 2020 because wages have not gone up with inflation.

Speaking as a minimum-wage worker, here’s what I’d like to see. Instead of raising the minimum wage in Maine, give us the option of benefits. Employers do not have to pay us more – they should allow us the option to have sick days and time off without retaliation, such as termination from employment. We have the same right to work as those who work in an office somewhere, or those who run their own businesses. It makes more sense to give workers the option of paid time off than to raise the cost of labor and pass it down to the consumer.

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