The Polarized Politics of Minimum Wage Rhetoric

I have noticed something recently, something that I find disappointing and bleak. Maybe this has always been around, and as one matures and ages you start to observe more critically. Fast food workers have taken the lion’s share of blame for the minimum wage debate in our nation, and as a result I have noticed people attacking their intentions on social media and in current conversation. These workers, and people who receive minimum wage are perceived as the lowest of low, and are vilified by many. As if somehow their receiving a livable wage affects those I hear debate this with a zealotry that I believed was only reserved for Christians and followers of cults, these people coming down on the side against those barely eking out a living seem to take umbrage with their requests, all the while it has nothing to do with them.

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As a firefighter/paramedic I work in a job that requires me to risk life and limb on a daily basis. Although I do not run into burning buildings everyday, hell, every month for that matter, my job has a level of danger in which I am exposed to screaming patient’s off their psyche meds, drug overdoses, domestic assaults– where tensions run high as if the room were filled with thick sand and a humidity which just pokes and irritates all within this moist miasma,– and motor vehicle accidents, where as we walk in traffic, the majority of people are gawking rubberneckers or cell phone addicted fools, paying less attention to their driving, which makes us an unseen target of hundreds of pounds of steel on four rubber wheels. On top of all the few dangers I listed on the ambulance–there are too many to describe here without this becoming just a pedantic list of horrors–we still have to face the flaming beast of fire, collapse situations, any weather condition that can be thrown at us, hyperthermia and heat stroke, and a hole host of hazards which are associated with firefighting.

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But wait, it doesn’t end there. We also are required to be hazardous materials technicians. So in our minds we must be proficient at firefighting, paramedicine, and hazmat. I love getting two days worth of training to hold a technician’s license when it was supposed to be a week long class, and that’s good enough–budgets, ain’t they a bitch. So here we are, all geared up for hazmat, and doing the best we can, with the bare minimum training we can have, dealing with chemicals that can and will melt your face off, burn through the encapsulated suit you are wearing, and you know, kill you if you breath it in. Now again, like firefighting, this doesn’t happen everyday, or month, or really sometimes in a year, but we still have to maintain proficiency in this arena of horrid, frightening level of expertise, where guessing the wrong chemical can melt the Level A suit to your skin like shrink wrap.

Now you are thinking yeah, that is a lot to know. But wait, there’s more. On top of all that, we have to be confined space technicians, and some even take on, voluntarily, high angle technician, where dangling from something a few hundred feet in the air is nothing but rush and exhilaration for few adrenaline junkies. In all fairness to the powers that be, the management and the chiefs, they don’t ask for all this for us, they only respond to society and their requests. In a changing world, who else takes the call. For some reason firefighting has become the catch all for emergencies. If it can happen, we do it. Oh wait, did I also mention Ice Rescue Technician, water rescue, and the ever gruesome body recoveries in open water. Why bring all this up, you ask? Am I trying to elevate firefighters to a level of superiority to other professions? Am I trying to sell us as gods amongst mere mortals? Hell we have days where we may not run a single call. Its not like television dramas where they are running against the clock every call, a rush to save a life where mere seconds count.  These instances are rare, but they do happen. We, for the most part, run many calls in our twenty-four hour shifts, and stay busy with training and station duties in between these moments of adrenaline infused chaos, but my reasoning for this blog is not to educate you on firefighting, but discuss an interesting trend I have noticed on social media; the comparative politics in the debate for minimum wage increase, using ambulance workers as a reason for not raising the minimum wage.

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Now what I just listed off to you is a lot for one profession to be proficient in. We are expected to save lives with a swiftness that borders on the impossible, with little budget, because, well, the public doesn’t like taxes, no one does. The same people who complain about being taxed too high, expect the fire department and ambulance to be at their beckon call at any moment when they need them, and expect the best trained individuals, yet, don’t wish to pay a professional salary. I get that, and understand it is legitimate, because I am a firefighter/paramedic, I see it happen everyday I work. But here is what I don’t understand, how did ambulance workers become the anti-fast food minimum wage increase poster child?

I am not against an increase in minimum wage. I will repeat that, I am not against it. As minimum wage has slowly inched forward over the years to the sad, pathetic rate it is today, the consumer price index, CPI, has increased by a large percentage year after year, leaving minimum wage in the dust long ago. Minimum wage is supposed to be the minimum livable wage, yet research shows, time after time, that this is far from the truth. What I find interesting is the lack of empathy, and the comparisons individuals show in this debate. When did our society become an us against them scenario? When did we start comparing apples to horse shoes? The comparison of paramedics jobs and wages to fast food workers can’t even be considered to be fruit on fruit, because they are so far apart. What perplexes me, is that while fast food workers rally around their profession, trying to make a livable wage through protests and walkouts, paramedics post vines and meme’s denigrating these individuals, complaining about their own low wage. I don’t notice anybody posting meme’s, about football players throwing an oval shaped pigskin ball around and making millions, while paramedics and firefighters only making the tiniest fraction of that, because those players are contributing to society. Or what about baseball, tennis, Nascar? This is because these are gods elevated to ranks that are above us mere mortals. These athlete’s sit, cast in bronze, atop Mount Olympus, while fast food workers are in Hades, forever trapped by Charon’s unwillingness to ferry them across, because their wages can’t buy them a ferry pass. My question to you ambulance workers and firefighters, why are you not starting a national rhetoric about our low wages? Why can the fast food workers come together better than we do, especially when most of us pay dues into unions?

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I am appalled at my union brothers and ambulance workers who disparage workers of another profession by creating a polarizing comparison between the two. Instead of casting aspersions on these workers, why not start a national debate about the dangers or our profession, and the little pay we make. Why do we have to insult people and knock them down? How is their increase in fast food wage going to impact you in your lives? What, your burger might cost more? Good, it should. The question you should have is, how can a burger, fries, and soda be so cheap? And for that, what is it you are really eating, if it is that cheap? Maybe you shouldn’t eat there on a daily basis, and if you do, don’t cry when you have your heart attack.

So as professionals, lets step back and look at the meta-narrative and develop some compassion. If we need to get paid more, and you think your job is underpaid, then fight for it, but don’t knock other people down, insulting them. If you think fifteen dollars an hour–don’t forget taxes come out of that as well–is too much, think about how much it costs to buy food, normal, healthy food. While a pound of 85% ground beef, generic pink slime riddled ground beef, costs $7 per pound, and a box of hamburger helper is $5, that is about an hours worth of work. Ok, that doesn’t sound bad, but, when you then think of the cost of electricity, gas for the car, car payments or commuter passes, and heating, that adds up. Also, I only listed one meal, which is an obesity addled meal–you can’t, and shouldn’t humanly live off crap like that–what about breakfast and lunch. What about when hunger gnaws at your stomach, and you or your children can’t concentrate? Those kids will have a fair chance at life, unable to concentrate while in school, sure, right.

You’re right though, paramedic, ambulance worker who belittles the minimum wage debate, you are right. This should be like the 1940s and 50s all over again in coal-mining country Kentucky. Screw them, right? If they hunger, they hunger, and let them, I need my coal, and cheap, so I can heat my middle class home off the bent spines of coke black workers, who’s skin is tight against thick rib bones protruding through only muscle, not an inch of fat is to be found. I need that fast food, and cheap. I mean why should they get a decent wage. They don’t work hard, they just stand behind a counter right? Well, you’re just an ambulance driver, right? A taxi cab, lesser than a nurse, and far lesser than a doctor or PA and NP. You want to sling mud, just remember how our profession is viewed by the general public. Duracell has a commercial where firefighters sit around the station playing cards, doing nothing but leisure time. You know, but the public knows better than that, right? Because people don’t get fed ideas and believe everything on television. In the end, people are people, no matter what job they work, and I can’t believe, that we have to polarize such debates, and decry others to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. I hope, that as a nation, we begin to develop empathy again, and stop this, “us against them” rhetoric. We are a society, and society is about a collective group of individuals working toward something. If we are not society than we are nothing but selfish individuals who care only for our own well being. I for one support an increase in minimum wage, not because I care about fast food, but because I care about people. Do you?

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