George Pyle: Judge people, and nations, by how they treat the waitress

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) El Chihuahua Mexican restaurant in Salt Lake City opens their restaurant with limited dining on Friday, May 1, 2020. They have removed about half the tables and have some on a patio as Utah restaurants can now open their dining rooms for sit-down service, with heavy restrictions, including fewer tables (to keep patrons 6-feet apart) and face masks for employees due to COVID-19.

The next time you go on a job interview — a real one, not Zoom — make sure the person interviewing you takes you out to eat.

Breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner. It doesn’t matter. The point is not just to get a free meal out of it, though that has proved motivation enough for me over the years. The idea is to see how your potential new boss treats the wait staff. If the person conducting the interview is rude or condescending to the waiter or waitress, they are poison and you do not want to work for them.

This rule of thumb also serves well to judge politicians.

The paralyzing fear that the undeserving poor might catch a break often seems to be a pillar of modern conservative thought. Since the New Deal, if not back to ancient times, suggestions that the culture, through its government, might guarantee, require or prop up anything resembling a living wage has been attacked as something that would sap the work ethic from a generation and create a nation of people sitting around or, as they said in Franklin Roosevelt’s day, leaning on their shovels.

Of course, when those jobless people in the employ of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration actually picked up their shovels, they built everything from forest trails to the giant public power project on the Columbia and Tennessee rivers, along with libraries and plays and paintings and swimming pools and Woody Guthrie songs and other stuff, much of it that lasted for decades, that kept a nation more or less gainfully and productively employed until World War Keynes came along and finally ended the Great Depression for good.

Willfully ignorant of the fact that any stable economy is built from the bottom up, not the top down, worthies such as Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Mike Lee have been heard bemoaning the fact that federally funded bonuses to unemployment insurance might encourage workers who were at the bottom of the pay scale before to continue to stay home, living off the boosted dole, rather than heed the call of the Holy Reopening of the Economy.

“It doesn’t take probably a lot of rocket science to figure out if you’re making more money on unemployment, you’re maybe not quite as desperate to go back to work,” Herbert said last week.

Echoed Lee, “They worry that they would just be paying their employees for the sake of paying them rather than paying them for the sake of working,” referring to the already just-scraping-by workforce employed by the state’s tourism sector.

Well, yes, gentlemen. That’s the whole freaking point. We pay people to stay home, not because it is good for the people receiving the payments — even though it is — but because it is good for the nation as a whole.

Workers who stay home, especially from jobs that can’t be done online and involve a high degree of face-to-face contact, are performing a public service.

Forcing low-income employees back to work now is a bad idea for the economy and for public health, unless your top goal is to make sure those smelly poor people aren’t eligible for unemployment payments any more.

Swimming a bit upstream from the peasants-are-revolting school of thought, as he does often enough to make him interesting, is Sen. Mitt Romney. His idea is something called Patriot Pay. It isn’t to help people stay home, but to make it worth the while of folks who continue to work at “essential jobs,” such as health care, food service and delivery, with bonus pay stacked up with their normal wages and federal funds and tax credits.

If this makes Romney a RINO (Republican In Name Only), it is because it is rare for modern Republicans to see that paying people for services rendered is something that a functioning economy does all the way up and down the pay scale, not just for rich corporations.

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, was paid way too much for writing this.


Twitter, @debatestate