From the Journal (Labor Day)
End of summer.
Back to school specials.
Labor Day Savings at stores (now online).
A few cold beers.
For about half of my life, these are the things that I tied to Labor Day.
During the past 48 hours I’ve already received countless Labor Day emails promoting one product or another, blog posts lamenting today as the end of summer with no more lazy days floating in the river or swinging in the hammock, and Instagram shots of friends around the world enjoying their last weekend of kids frolicking in the sand, managing sunburns, smiling from ear to ear. I’ve even seen one business-related blog post essentially boasting, without meaning to, about their positive contributions to labor in the tech sector… in my mind demonstrating an absolute lack of understanding as to what is really happening in our world, and the tech sector, especially in start-up mode, is not generally where the problems lie. And he’s one of the (very) good guys…
If I didn’t look outside of the echo chamber that is mine, I would assume, as many people do, that these activities and sentiments are pretty much true for everyone. And they are true for everyone… everyone in the, perhaps, top 10% of US in terms of income and wealth? Maybe that’s even too hopeful.
The other side of this story is pretty obvious but deserves an attempt at a description. Street businesses today are open everywhere, mine included. People are working and working hard. Just as they do nearly every day. No breaks, no pause from the stress of struggling to live most days just above water, though admittedly too many days spent underwater breathing through a thin (often paper these days) straw. Their summer included a few days off if they were lucky, maybe even today if they are really, really lucky (it’s hot and sunny in these parts!). If they had kids they were in the same day care as they were all winter or more likely staying with the designated cousin all summer while they worked to keep that paper straw from being pinched or becoming waterlogged. Summer means the AC in the restaurant where they work went on the fritz at least twice, and they sweated their way through those days while waiting for the slammed HVAC trucks, driven by even more hard workers, to make their rounds, all on an emergency basis of course. The 10%-ers need their ice cream!
I’ll admit. I’ve had a wonderful long weekend myself. Hell, I’ve had an amazing summer. And ironically, Maggie and I are hosting a BBQ at our house this afternoon and we’ll have about 30 people here from all over town. The kids will bounce on the used trampoline I bought off of the Norwich List Serve a few weeks ago and assembled (I thought that was hard work, by the way… don’t believe the British chap in the SpringFree videos who makes it look so easy, I can’t remember grunting, sweating, and cursing – with a few pulled muscles as evidence – like I did getting that thing built). At an expected 90 degrees, we’ll swim in Blood Brook that meanders around our land, and like so many others, I’ll act as though this is the last day of summer.
The last day of summer, of course, is on September 22 this year. Summer doesn’t care about Labor or who is working or who isn’t, or when we go back to school, or anything else. Labor Day has nothing to do with summer.
The only day I know in this country that still, just barely, acknowledges labor and those who work so hard all year long is Christmas. Other than a few Starbucks that have now begun to stay open on that sacred day, most businesses are closed. Hourly workers aren’t usually paid on Christmas, so it’s not really all that helpful financially, but at least it’s a day off that people can count on. A moment to breathe, to be grateful for family and friends hopefully.
At Boloco, seven of our nine restaurants are open today. Anyone working will receive a 25% bonus per hour for every hour worked (if you make $16, today you make $20, etc.) We do that for 6 holidays per year. It’s ok, better than most, but still pretty lame.
As of last week, the average hourly wage at Boloco was $14.57, versus $13.72 a year ago. The highest paying Boloco restaurants, largely due to longer tenure, happen to be Hanover (NH), Atlantic Wharf, and Copley, all paying on average over $15.20 per hour. As a comparison, one of the company’s we see nearby almost all of our locations is Chipotle, and they announced many months ago that they hoped to achieve $12.00 per hour on average at their 2,000+ locations by the end of 2018. Of course, they are accountable to a higher power, the market. They are “struggling” according to most, showing restaurant profits of around 18% these days compared to 25-27% a few short years ago. Boloco, also struggling, is showing closer to 11% restaurant profits, but our struggle is only because of that extra $2-3 we pay our people. If we paid market wages, we’d be swimming in success (well, that’s what I tell myself at least, though the math supports it). I get bitter about that fact in quiet moments… why shouldn’t Chipotle pay its people $15 or even more and accept the lower profits that we do, and many other small businesses do, in the name of doing right by others? Won’t profits follow anyway? Easy answer. They don’t want to and they don’t have to. And no, there’s no formula that states doing right = eventual higher profits. But then again, that’s why Boloco is a B Corp and Chipotle isn’t. We think like that. They don’t. It doesn’t make us particularly good or them particularly bad. We are all just doing the best we can.
Perhaps Labor Day should be the day where we all close our street businesses and pay our people a day’s worth of wages so they, too, can frolic about and talk about the end of summer. For Boloco that would cost us 140 people x $14.57 x 6 hours (on average) or about $12,000… plus the cost of lost restaurant profits for the 7 stores that would have been open, or another $8,000 or so. $20,000 is about 5% of our too-low projected profit for the entire year in 2019, so it’s nothing to be taken lightly. Selfishly, popping back to the earlier-fabricated “10% world”, $20,000 is a jet ski I could have purchased here in VT, or a new deck we talk about outside of our house, or even that silly but awesome E-Foil lithium-powered surf board my brother has – I want one too!
But perhaps that’s what it’s going to take to make Labor Day matter, to have it stand for something real. The 10%ers like you and me need to make conscious sacrifices… sacrifices that sound like a joke to most people (efoil, seriously??), but feels as real as just about anything when you are in the hot seat making the decision. None of us want to let go of what we have, slide backwards on that percentile scale, be “less” than how we see ourselves, and our peers, today. But for the inequality gap to lessen in any meaningful way, for laborers to begin to close in on the capitalists, sacrifice will be a required ingredient.
Happy Labor Day…