- - Wednesday, September 4, 2019


The summer before my senior year in high school, I was hired as a handyman at a marina in Long Beach, California. I was 17. The work was hard and took place six days a week, outside in the hot sun. I was cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning the pool, repairing wood docks, painting boats in the yard and more. My salary was $1.10 an hour. The year was 1957.

After a couple of weeks on the job, I sat down with the marina owners to ask for a raise. The owners were two wealthy men in their 30s. I explained why I felt I was being underpaid and asked for a raise to $1.50 an hour. The response I received was a lesson that has stayed with me all these years. “Ed,” I was told, “We like you. You’re a nice kid and we like having you around. But this is the deal: There are hundreds of kids out there that we could hire for what we are paying you. This is a $1.10-an-hour job. The salary we pay in not based on your value as a person, or what you might think the work is worth. The salary is for this job, period. We can see that you are a hard worker. And you have presented a pretty good argument as to why we should pay you more. So your pay is now $1.25 an hour.” And I was told I could help myself to whatever I wanted to eat at the snack bar, free, every day.

When I hear the demands for a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, I sometimes think about that summer. If your work is only worth $10 an hour, that is what you should be paid. If you work your hardest and make yourself valuable to the company, I bet that soon you will be doing better than $10 an hour.


Montgomery Village, Md.

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