On a recent road trip I picked up the Seattle Times during a layover at Seattle-Tacoma airport (SEATAC), a story on the front page caught my attention; it talked about a proposal that recently went to voters that raises the minimum wage for many SEATAC workers to a whopping $15 an hour. The proposal was too close to call at the time, although it had an early lead with several absentee ballots still to count.
Fifteen bucks an hour? No wonder the guy putting fuel in our plane seemed so happy.
This story, combined with the recent passage of legislation to raise California's minimum wage to $10 an hour, reassures my feeling that incentive is slowly slipping away from the American mindset.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying those running aircraft maintenance, loading bags or other odd-jobs around airports don't deserve that kind of money. But what incentive is left when we start workers out at such high levels?
Incentive is a critical factor in the success of any athlete, businessperson or run-of-the-mill worker. It's incentive that encourages people to give more, perform at higher-levels and eventually make more money for their efforts.
When the California Legislature was arguing for the raise in our state, I kept hearing comments about the inability to raise a family on a minimum-wage salary. Funny thing is, last I checked minimum wage wasn't designed to do that. It was designed to keep a little money in your pocket while you figured out ways to improve your situation; it was never designed as a career choice.
Since I was traveling with our basketball team I thought about the way most coaches inspire their teams. Those who perform in practice and in games are the ones who receive the most playing time, accolades and leadership roles. I don't think there's been a college coach in history that guaranteed any athlete on their teams a certain amount of playing time without making them work for it.
Is athletics one of the few remaining incentive-based models in our society? With recent events locally and nationally, it just might be.
Will March Madness one day be decided by a player deep on the bench because the coach felt it was his turn to play, and he's guaranteed 10 minutes a game? I sure hope not, but we might be headed in that direction.
America was built on the concept of incentive; those who braved the seas to come to the "New World" did so with the incentive of starting a better life somewhere else; with no guarantees. Can you imagine if the inscription on the Statue of Liberty read; "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for $15 an hour. We guarantee it!" instead of the actual "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
It took me years to earn $15 an hour like it appears they'll soon be paying the minimum-wage workers at SEATAC. It took me years to even earn the $10 an hour California has vowed to pay minimum-wage workers by 2016.
I had the incentive to move out of that pay bracket; will they?
Since this movement at the SEATAC airport, rumors are circulating that the city of Seattle will be looking to do the same for their workers. Wow.
For now, at least we have coaches who seem to reward those who work the hardest and have the most talent. Is it the fairest system on earth? Absolutely not, but we all know about how fair life is right?
I know the next time I stare out a plane window at the gate in Seattle and watch someone loading my bags in the cold rainy weather I'll feel a little less sorry for them, considering they'll probably be clearing more money than those of us that earned our salary-level the old fashioned way.
COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University, Bakersfield.