If there’s one thing that’s sapping the life out of our economy, it’s the rapidly spreading, virus-like entitlement mentality.  When did the American dream change from “even though I have nothing, I can make something of myself” to “someone else should solve my problems so I don’t have to worry anymore”?  This trend in popular thought is bad for politics, bad for our economy, and most importantly, it’s bad for those who embrace it.

Fast food workers in New York have recently gone on strike claiming poor working conditions and demanding an increase in minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour.  A woman recently said of her job in USA Today “it’s noisy, it’s really hot, fast, they rush you.  Sometimes you don’t even get breaks.”  Have we completely forgotten what fast food is?

Look, I wouldn’t be arguing about this if I didn’t have some sort of experience in the matter.  I worked in a fast food restaurant for a little over six months, and to be honest it was all of those things; the restaurant was loud, the kitchen and counter areas got boiling hot, we were expected to provide excellent service extremely quickly, and when it came to closing time, there was often a decent amount of physical labor involved.  And no one wants to do calculus homework when they get off work past midnight.

But I applied for that job.  Despite how terribly stressful the work could be at times, I never asked for a raise and I never expected more than I was promised when I was hired.  After all, I had agreed to work there, had agreed to the hourly wage they had started me at, and in turn was expected to do the work they asked of me.

When I got tired after an 8 hour shift or felt rushed when we had lines out the door, my solution was not to ask for the right to unionize.  I didn’t picket the restaurant, ask them to more than double my wages, and keep people from entering.  Instead, I kept my head down, did the work, and knew that if I continued to strive for excellence at my seemingly pointless job, I would only benefit from it.  I was pleased to find that before I left I received a raise, won a free XBox in a raffle, and was given a cookie cake for my last shift with the message “Good Luck Connor”.  I was happy to overlook the misspelling.

I understand that New York is an expensive place to live, and that $7.25 an hour doesn’t do a whole lot for a single parent supporting their children.  I understand that the work at a fast food restaurant (although they always expect you to smile) is often anything but fun.  It’s  still work.  But these people on strike agreed to these jobs; they agreed to the wages they were being paid when they took the job, and they signed contracts accordingly.  They forfeited the right to complain about their salaries when they agreed to them in the first place.  And let’s get something straight: you’re not working in a coalmine in the 1800’s; you work at a McDonald’s in New York and you don’t need a union.

The fact is, no one wants to step on anyone’s toes anymore.  Employers are so afraid to anger their employees or customers that they won’t take the logical approach to a situation like this: make sure they are hiring “at will”, and then employ the Reagan Model for strikes.  McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and the other organizations need to play hardball.

If these organizations put out statements that addressed the unemployment in their major metropolitan areas and then made it very clear that with such unskilled labor jobs they can and will find new employees, the strikes would stop.  People are looking for jobs in this struggling economy, and if these companies were smart, they would make it very clear that those on strike can either continue working at a rate of $7.25 an hour or be making that much less and look for a new job.  I’m sure there are plenty in New York who need the work just as badly and would be willing to do it without going on strike.  If you don’t like what you’re being paid, find a new job or make yourself more valuable.

These companies do not “owe” anything to their employees other than what they were offered at the start of their employment, and to more than double wages for their workers would force food prices higher and result in a similar situation years down the road when this makes everything in New York even more expensive.  Minimum wage jobs are meant for people in school or those looking for new work, not as a solution to supporting yourself and children as an adult in an expensive city.  It is not the fast food restaurant’s job to make sure its employees live comfortably; that responsibility resides in the adults that work for them.

As a young person, as a conservative, as a hard worker, as a former fast food employee, and as an American, this lack of responsibility from a generation of entitled employees is embarrassing.

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Conner Dwinell | Hillsdale College | @ConnerDwinell