With the Seattle City Council meeting today to discuss (and possibly vote on) the proposed $15 minimum wage ordinance, I thought it useful to take a moment to drill down to the heart of the problem with a training wage: It disempowers workers by imposing a monetary penalty on those who choose to change jobs.
Think about it. Most fast food employees work multiple part-time jobs, so it might take four to six months (or even longer) to work through their training wage hours at each employer. But let’s say they are unhappy with their manager, or find another minimum wage job closer to home—switching jobs would restart their training wage clock to zero. That means another four to six months (or longer) of sub-minimum wage.
Employers know that. They know that after putting in their training wage time, employees will be loath to take a 25 percent pay cut for the privilege of working someplace else. This would shift the already lopsided balance of power in the employment relationship even more in favor of the employer. And if there wasn’t already such a large balance of power disparity, a minimum wage wouldn’t be necessary in the first place.
The fact is, it’s not really a training wage. Most minimum wage hires aren’t like apprentice plumbers or electricians, learning a new and complicated craft. They are service workers, largely in the restaurant, hospitality, and retail industry, who have prior experience doing the same work. It’s not like manning a drive-thru window at McDonald’s is all that much different from manning a drive-thru window at Burger King. Yet every new hire could be paid a “training wage” regardless of their real-world work experience.
A training wage serves as an artificial disincentive to labor mobility, and as such distorts the labor market in favor of the employer.
If you could effectively target a training wage to those few new hires with no relevant work experience, then that might be a different story. But you can’t. So in an industry with up to 200 percent annual turnover, it just makes no sense to financially penalize workers every time they change jobs.