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John Hazen White’s LOOKOUT: Taco and Taco Bell

Monday, January 27, 2014


John Hazen White

Sometimes life is so ironical you can’t make these things up. The name of my company, Taco (an acronym for the Thermal Appliance Company, our original name from the 1920s when my grandfather started the company), is often mispronounced, even here in Rhode Island. Instead of Tay-co, people say Ta-co, like the tortilla sandwich. It’s an innocent enough mispronunciation, and one that has prompted the creation of this corrective phrase:

Tacos are for eating…Taco is for heating.

Now here’s the irony. Several months ago a new building on Cranston Street, a block north of our building, began to go up. Once the shell was up it was obvious that this was going to be a retail outlet and, with a drive through window, one serving food. Finally came the signage and, lo and behold, what was it: none other than a Taco Bell. No sooner was that revealed then the phones at Taco began to ring about hiring at the Taco Bell

Taco and Taco Bell, just a block apart but a world apart in terms of wages and benefits paid to employees. Of course, that’s the difference between working in today’s advanced manufacturing as opposed to the fast food service industry. Taco Bell pays its employees at hourly wage minimums and provides few if any benefits below the managerial level. Certainly many of the hard working people who work there would prefer to work for a business providing good wages and benefits. In manufacturing, for example, workers make far beyond the minimum wage. I don’t think anyone has ever been paid at the minimum wage level at Taco since the minimum wage standard was established in 1938 at 25 cents an hour.

There’s a battle brewing across the country right now about the minimum wage and low paying jobs provided by some major companies. Walmart, which has been challenged over its employee policies for years, has been running ads showing presumably real Walmart associates, instead of actors, saying how great the company is to them. One of Taco Bell’s competitors, McDonald’s, has tripped over itself by advising its workers on how to scrimp and save to get by on the wages it pays. We’ve also learned that many minimum wage workers have to rely on government and community assistance to make ends meet. Companies that pay low wages have a responsibility not to force their employees to seek public aid to get by. In contrast, I don’t see protesters on the news carrying signs about low wages in American factories.

Living Wage, Education, and Training

With the economy still underperforming and jobs hard to come by, a number of states have raised their minimum wage levels beyond the federal level $7.25 an hour. Both Rhode and Massachusetts’ levels are at $8 currently. Rhode Island legislators may choose to push the Ocean State’s level to $9 starting next year. Expect to hear President Obama again call for a federal level of $10 in his State of the Union speech tonight, which Congress failed to act on last year.

Business owners’ attitude toward raising the minimum wage is usually negative and always predicts negative consequences for workers, which seldom materialize because, after all, it’s hard to run a business without people. But with workers in the streets protesting and stories surfacing of minimum wage workers on food stamps, attitudes are changing. Even a significant number of Republican voters now support raising the minimum wage.

All honest work, whatever its nature and at whatever level, is ennobling and serves a positive and needed function in any economy. Most people really do want to work and earn wages to pay for a living. All workers deserve a living wage so they can provide for their families and save for the future.

Those at the bottom ladder of the wage scale deserve a raise. But to better secure not only a living wage, but a good paying job requires education and training in today’s economy. We owe these things to all of our children. Not everyone needs a college education to do well in life either, but every worker needs the chance to train to advance. Most of the folks who labor at dead-end service sector jobs are stuck there because of a lack of training and education.

Hourly wage workers have nowhere else to go but up and our society needs to help them make that climb. Educational opportunities are a must, but then it takes individual self-motivation and perseverance to make the difference in one’s working life.


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There is no denying anything that John is saying in his commentary above. However, the time has long since come and gone for people to STOP believing that these kinds of jobs in these Fast Food Joints are anything more then what they are and should not be looked upon as jobs that can, or ever will, provide an income in a range that one would need to raise a family. Nor are these jobs career paths. They are jobs that should be the kinds of jobs that one takes to 'Supplement' their income.....and but one more step on the ladder towards achieving the life's experiences, along with education, that Mr. Hazen points out is what are needed to eventually earn the kinds of income his highly educated and professional employees earn!

Comment #1 by TOM LETOURNEAU on 2014 01 27

In college I spent my summers busting my butt in a warehouse. I worked with a lot of immigrants. The company was a regional employer that didn't pay very well compared to some of the other employers. As soon as the good workers spoke passable english they were poached by other employers. If your still earning minimum wage after two years find a new job because your employer is letting you know that they would rather incur the expense of training your replacement than give you a raise.

Second point, TACO is a third generation family owned company. There is no way JHW would have moved the company here. He's here (I imagine) because of loyalty to his workers, cost of moving, Rhode Island is his home, Rhode Island has pretty awesome natural beauty and weather, etc. No employer wants to move to a high tax state with a horribly trained workforce. Our schools lag so far behind our neighbors its embarrassing to any Rhode Islander paying attention.

Thank you to whoever coined the phrase; "Rhode Island, Minnesota taxes, Mississippi services."

Comment #2 by Redd Ratt on 2014 01 27

So just a question to stimulate some conversation. What if every high school senior went on to graduate college? What would corporate America pay college graduates? I think that if that scenario ever played out, you would have MBA's making minimum wage. Not everyone is going to college. Does that mean they can't make a living wage? As jobs disappear overseas, and profits are at an all time high, what the hell are we doing in this country? I mean this out sourcing will eventually kill the very companies that do it.

Comment #3 by Stephen DeNinno on 2014 01 27

70+ years ago, FDR signed the minimum wage law, since then the Right-Wingnut-lemmings have strongly opposed EVERY increase (even of just pennies per hour) with false predictions of economic doom, In those 70+ years, the American economy has grown to be the largest economy in the world.
Dopes like Limbaugh, Beck and Savage many others on the Reight, have called for the abolition of the minimum wage.

They want the USA to be more like the conservative paradise Bangladesh were folks earn 17 cents and hour. and children are paid 7 cents an hour....or less

Comment #4 by Sammy Arizona on 2014 01 27

Stephen, "The world needs ditch diggers too", Judge Smails 1980

The thing is digging ditches is hard work and beneath many Americans that have no marketable skills. The idea that people have a right to a job or to own a home are untrue. We have the right to an "opportunity" that's it. I don't have a problem with a minimum wage that's linked to inflation because the unskilled masses have very little leverage in the job market (especially when our government makes it so accommodating to come here illegally). But lets be honest, employers should hire you to make a profit off your labor, not to give you a job. That's what makes capitalism prosper. I know as a government retiree that may not seem obvious, but it's true.

Comment #5 by Redd Ratt on 2014 01 28

Redd, I agree with your post. However, the nay sayers out there that say that jobs at McDonald's, Walmart, Target, Sears, Kmart, ect. are not doing everything in their power to better themselves. Not everyone can graduate college, infact in the 40s and 50s many did not graduate High School. They went on to make a good middle class living as machinist, laborers, plumbers, electricians. Ect. But even the skilled trades need schooling now. This just work hard BS is not in reality today. Most of the wealthy were born into their wealth. They have no idea how hard their father and grandfather worked. So I believe this is part of the problem. The comment of being a retired firefighter didn't escape me. I have a degree in Organic chemistry, and could have made much more in the private sector. I am currently working on my Masters in Bio-chem. Capitalism is broken, let's face it.

Comment #6 by Stephen DeNinno on 2014 01 28

Junior get a hair cut.

Comment #7 by Real Clear on 2014 01 30

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