business news in context, analysis with attitude

The other day we referenced a story from the New York Times detailing how when many workers start jobs in the restaurant business, they are required to "pay around $15 to a company called ServSafe for an online class in food safety."  What they don't know is that ServSafe "doubles as a fund-raising arm of the National Restaurant Association — the largest lobbying group for the food-service industry, claiming to represent more than 500,000 restaurant businesses. The association has spent decades fighting increases to the minimum wage at the federal and state levels, as well as the sub-minimum wage paid to tipped workers like waiters."

In other words, the Times wrote, employees who generally would argue for an increase in the minimum wage actually are helping to fund a lobbying group that has effectively worked against any such increase.

Got the following email from MNB reader Duane Eaton:

Having worked for a trade association serving the produce industry I know the ServSafe program well.  It’s an important program designed to make foodservice workers aware of food safety dangers in preparing and serving food to customers.  As such, IMHO, it should be a “cost of doing business” expense that is borne by the business and not the worker. 


We reported the other day that Amazon was ending its AmazonSmile charity donation program, saying that " our ability to have an impact was often spread too thin."

I commented, in part:

I'm sure that in some cases, the donations are thin … but donations are donations, and for me, it just felt good.

It seems to me that this could be seen as a case in which Amazon is prioritizing itself over its customers, which is a cultural/perception shift for the company.  Maybe in a vacuum it wouldn't matter, but at a time when Amazon is going through a lot of changes, this is troubling.

One MNB reader agreed:

My husband received the same email with the same sentiment. It made us sad and disappointed. It wasn't that we thought our small amount made a huge difference but it added to our "Why use Amazon?". Most of our purchases could be done using someone else. AND maybe our donation with other donations did make a big enough impact. I am sorry to see this program go and disappointed that Amazon decided to discontinue it. 

And, from another reader:

This is very disappointing and I totally do not agree with their narrative.  The power of AmazonSmile is a person can pick a charity they want to support and not one Amazon selects.  Taking that choice away is not helpful at all.

Yesterday we noted a good piece in the New York Times about how, in Florida's Miami-Dade County, vendors "can be found in parking lots and along busy roads … They turn their open car trunks into makeshift cafeterias or grocery stores, selling produce, tamales, seafood and meats. They shout their sales pitches, lighthearted Spanish rhymes, as they follow shoppers coming and going from the stores."  Many of these vendors are immigrants, and they're also unlicensed.

I commented:

A lot of these folks are just trying to make a living, though that doesn't address the issue of food safety;  it also doesn't help traditional retailers that find themselves competing with these insurgents.

That said, if South Florida is like most other places around the country, there must be a lot of retailers looking for motivated, experienced employees who would love to have more traditional jobs with regular paychecks and benefits.  You'd think that somehow retailers could find a way to access all these street vendors and make them appealing offers.

Now, it may be that the regressive immigration laws we have in this country make this impossible.  That's a different problem.  But there ought to be a way to match people who want to work, wherever they happen to be from and whatever their immigration status, with companies that can't find enough employees.

MNB reader Scott Vicari responded:

I am with you up until “whatever their immigration status.”  One of the basic foundations of a nation is its borders, another is its laws. Solving the illegal immigration problem starts with a healthy respect for both.

From another reader:

Nice thought, but you are missing a key factor.  These street vendors are flying under the radar.  They don’t want a job that they have to pay taxes and be regulated by others.  The motivation is to stay low, make cash, and go home.  I would say that most are already getting free benefits from government subsidies and free medical too.  Until those things go away, the connection will never be made between business and people that work the street, no matter how good their tamales are.

And I would say that you are focusing on the worst stereotypes of who these folks are, not the fact that many of them see America as a place where their best, most aspirational dreams can be fulfilled.  The vast majority of immigrants are people who want to work and build lives for themselves and their families - I think they understand the promise of America far better than many people whose families have been here for generations.

Do we have to come up with a solution for the illegal immigration crisis?  Sure.  Absolutely.  But you don't do that by pandering to the worst stereotypes.

(I have my own thoughts about this.  If I were President Biden, I'd appoint a six-person commission, co-chaired by Barack Obama and Jeb Bush.  The other four members would be made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, none of whom are in office or have any plans to run for office.  And I'd ask that commission to, within six months, made a series of recommendations for how to fix the immigration and asylum system in a way that respects the law, is in synch with the needs of the economy, and has embedded within it a basic sense of humanity.  It seems to me that neither political party has done well in grappling with the problem, and so I'd try to take it out of politics, and promise to a) try to pass whatever recommendations the commission makes, and b) not use the problem as a political cudgel except against those who are more interested in making noise and political points than finding solutions.)