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Dick’s Drive-In ‘smart wage’ offers alternative to $15 Now

The opening day in 2011 for the first Dick's Drive-In to open in 37 years in Edmonds. (Spady family)

Pretend for a second that you’re a high school dropout with no job experience. How much are you really worth to an employer?

You’re definitely not worth $15 per hour – especially if you’re doing work like flipping burgers or cleaning hotel rooms.

The granddaughter of the founder of one of the oldest and most beloved hamburger stands in Seattle has a plan to even out the unfairness of the proposed $15 minimum wage. Called “smart wage,” Jasmine Donovan’s plan would increase workers’ wages only if they achieve better education.

“Basically, if you’re the highest risk group of being poor and poor for your entire life – a high school dropout with no skills – we would set the minimum wage at the lowest, so you would have the easiest entry into the job market,” Donovan, the granddaughter of the founder of the Dicks’ hamburger chain. “If you improve your skills and education by getting a GED, your minimum wage would go up.”

“How would employees determine this? How would an employer know what level I’m supposed to be at?” KTTH host David Boze asked.

“If you have a GED, bring that with you. Your employer sees your GED,” she reasoned.

So, a high school dropout coming into a job would make the minimum wage. If they got a GED, a high school diploma, or associate’s degree, their wages would increase.

Unlike most fast food restaurants, Dick’s pays well above minimum wage, and offers its employees a generous benefits package, like full health insurance for those who work more than 24 hours per week.

Donovan has said that increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour would increase the Dick’s payroll to $1.5 million.

“The $15 Now group has its ideas in the right place,” Donovan said. “There’s all this talk about why $15 Now can’t work, all the different reasons it could potentially be very bad. [The Dicks family] wanted to try and solve the problem.”

“The more an increase we make in the minimum wage, the less flexibility we’re giving to employers,” Boze said. “If you put the barrier to entry for the people who made a mistake, like dropping out of high school, you’re basically condemning them to a life where they’ll never work their way out of that poverty.”

“You’re trapping them at this $15 number for the rest of their lives if they don’t have the opportunity to increase their skills and education,” Donovan said.

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