“The love of money is the root of all evil.” — The Apostle Paul
“When companies don’t pay workers a living wage, taxpayers pick up the tab.” — Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich
ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.
Businesses have been cutting costs and passing them along to customers now for about 100 years. Public reaction has been almost mute, so they’ve been getting away with it. The people have just sat back and taken it, barely noticing, barely caring.
I will provide seven examples of this practice from this and the previous centuries.
1. Waiters and waitresses in the 1920s
I hear tell the system of pay for restaurant waiters and waitresses first appeared in post World War I, before the Great Depression.
This scheme allowed restaurant owners to pay less than minimum wage to waiters and waitresses and let them earn tips to make up for the difference. It is still used today.
What it amounts to enabling private business to pass along some of its labor costs to customers. Business absorbs less cost, we absorb more.
To be sure, we don’t have to tip, but we are treated like cheapskates if we don’t. And these days, it feels a lot less a matter of personal choice when we get a bill that tells us just how much a 15, 20 and 25 percent tip would cost us, helping us do the math.
2. The 1940s and ‘50s — The milkman
Some of us are old enough to recall the days when a uniformed man showed up at our door to leave us glass containers. We paid for this service weekly, and sometimes, monthly.
As the saying goes, it’s gone the way of the milkman. Except in very rare instances, such a dairy employee is nonexistent these days. Instead, customers must travel to a store to buy milk and other grocery items. The business no longer is required to pay an employee.
3. The paper boy from the 1940s to the ‘80s
Many young boys grew up having as their first job being a paper boy, riding a bicycle in the neighborhood and tossing a newspaper onto a resident’s porch.
There still are a few people who distribute the paper to residences using their vehicles, But it has become too costly for the company and for the employees. Many folks these days get their news instead from TV, radio or from the Internet. They often have to pay for Internet news or be forced to watch or listen to advertisements.
4. The 1970s — The gas station jockey
Many of us remember the gas station attendant who bounded out the building as motorists pulled up to pump gas into our vehicles, check our oil and wash our windshield. Just like the other cases, those days are gone.
We have become accustomed to pumping our own gas, washing our own windshields and checking oil ourselves. The only employees in the modern now a-go-go gas emporium is a clerk or clerks behind counters, who will sell us other goodies, such as propane gas, cigarettes, snack items or soda pop.
The net result is that the gasoline company spends less on labor and passes the cost on to customers who perform self serve functions.
5. Fast food eateries
If you want to avoid having to tip waiters and waitresses, you can go to a fast food joint like McDonald’s Burger King and Taco Bell. If you go inside the establishment for a sit down meal, you order from items listed on the wall and after you’ve finished eating, you are encouraged bus your own table, to drop off your trash into a receptacle so the company avoids paying the much-maligned bus boy.
6. Drive-in banks and credit unions
In days gone by, many of us oldsters used to go inside a bank, wait in line for the next available teller and conduct business with a human being behind the counter. These people still exist, but the trend continues to be away from transacting with a human to driving by and using an ATM instead or using the modern miracle of the Internet.
I’ve been told the days of human bank tellers and clerks are numbered.
Yes, we customers have slowly, but surely, taken over the responsibilities of purchasing something. To be sure, much of this is because of the wonders of modern technology, which allows us to buy things more quickly and efficiently, but it also results in common everyday stiffs taking over the work.
7. The most recent trend showed its ugly head not long ago in grocery stores and large retailers. There are fewer and fewer human clerks available to scan our items and take out payments. Harding’s Market in Wayland has added self-checkout lanes, even Aldi’s, which is famous for having the fastest and most efficient clerks on the planet, now is down to one lane with a human handling your goods.
Whenever I am told by one of the few remaining employees in the store that the self-checkout lanes are available, I respond with a snarky “No thanks, I don’t work here.”
So businesses over the last 100 years have been spending less on the hired help and passing along the added workload to us everyday working stiffs. And we’ve hardly noticed.
Though there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it, I say, “Up with people!”