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June 5, 2014 at 12:10 PM

What was your first minimum wage job? These were ours.

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Seattle has made history with this week’s approval of a $15 minimum wage schedule, phased in over a few years with different schedules for different sized businesses. The world, judging from from this editorial in the Oregonian and this blog in The Guardian,  is either marveling or criticizing the audacity of the action.

The interesting thing about the Seattle minimum-wage debate is that it became a debate about a livable wage. The value underpinning the proposal is that a worker should be able to support themselves independently on the minimum wage.

That prompted an interesting conversation among our Opinion department staff members about our first jobs. None of us stayed in those jobs, using education to advance our careers, but all were useful helping to pay for college or educational travel. Here are our first jobs. What was yours? Please tell us in the comment section.

Frank Blethen, publisher: Grocery bag boy at Bashas Family Grocery  in Arizona for 95 cents an hour. We had to endure 110 degree summer heat every time we walked across the asphalt  pushing the cart or carrying bags — which we did for every customer in those days.

Kate Riley, editorial page editor: Around 1980, I pressed transfers and lettering onto T-shirts at the old T-Shirt Emporium at Totem Lake Mall in Kirkland and downstairs in the Seattle Center House, watching the old Bubbleator go up and down. My most vivid memory is the raunchy lettering I did for some even raunchier sailors during Seafair’s Fleet Week one year — for a wage of $2.30 an hour plus some minor commission. My father would have made me quit, if he had known!

Lance Dickie, editorial writer: My first job, with a paycheck and withholding, paid about 62 cents an hour or about half the federal minimum wage at the time.  It was a make-work summer job cleaning up storm debris and cutting trails for the City of Portland’s parks department. For most of us, it was more like pre-season conditioning for high-school football daily-doubles later in August.

Thanh Tan, multimedia editorial writer: My first job was cleaning tables at my parents’ restaurant in Olympia. Eventually, I became a hostess and a waitress. It wasn’t the hourly wage that mattered to me. (Honestly, I can’t even remember how much I was paid.) I loved earning tips, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. The better I got at customer service and communicating with strangers, the more money I made. (Restaurant workers are quick-studies. Hell hath no fury like hungry people!) Working in the restaurant industry from such a young age taught me fundamental social skills that still help me today. I remember getting hired for my very first internship at the age of 16 by a woman I’d served. That was probably the moment when I realized that a minimum-wage job could also be a stepping stone to other possibilities.

Jonathan Martin, editorial writer: My first job as a Safeway courtesy clerk in Graham, Pierce County, paid $3.50 an hour. It was 1988, and as a high-school sophomore, the wage was a princely sum above the $2.30 minimum wage at the time (it jumped to $3.85 in 1989). For that, I can thank the UFCW Local 367, the first of at least five unions of which I’ve been a member. It was part-time, short-lived and deadly boring, but I learned to punch a time clock, memorize the inventory by aisle and to bag groceries. The last skill has stuck with me: I prefer to bag my own groceries, heavy and square stuff on the bottom, bread and veggies on top, and the gum always straight into my pocket.

Erik Smith, editorial writer: At age 15, back in 1978, I found a summer job washing dishes at a now-defunct Spokane restaurant a couple miles from my house, the Northwoods Inn. Mostly, I remember it as a disgusting, grungy job in a steamy anteroom to the kitchen that forced me to hold my breath at times because the smell was so bad. It put something like $40 to $50 in my pocket every week, and offered the fringe benefit of a free dinner, always a hamburger and fries, halfway through the shift. Peak time was dinner, but I remained busy until the bar closed at 1 a.m. and was usually out of there by 1:30. So I guess you could say I received another fringe benefit — every night I got to listen to the house band play dubious disco music. All this would be illegal today, because the Washington-state mandatory quit time for 15-year-olds is 9 p.m. when school is out. I am so glad to know that I would have been protected from this terrible impulse to work.

Nikolaj Lasbo, producer/editor for digital opinion engagement: My first minimum wage job was as a dishwasher at a small restaurant on Lopez Island. I was 15 years old and started work at the beginning of summer after my freshman year of high school. The state minimum wage was a little over $7 at the time. It was tough, inglorious work and I would come home late, usually after midnight, reeking of stale water. I stuck with it and was promoted to a prep cook the following year, and moved into a role as a line chef and waiter the year after that. I used the money saved during summers in high school to travel on school trips in the winter to Central America and Asia.




Comments | Topics: Erik Smith, first jobs, Frank Blethen


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