The Flathead Valley’s Leading Independent Journal of Observation, Analysis, & Opinion. © James R. Conner.


6 December 2012

Jerry O’Neil and the wages of high school dropouts

For this excursion into economic sadism, the scene must first be set:

Imagine there’s a burger joint on the edge of Freedom Village, Prescott Wokker’s wildly popular and profitable Fire Brick Grill, beloved for its hearty aromas, earthy ambience, and, especially, its $21.75 King Cholesterol Burger, a cardiologist’s nightmare of juicy charcoal grilled range fed ground sirloin, hickory smoked bacon, sugar cured ham, seven gourmet cheeses including Dave Budge’s bleu, jalapeno barbecue sauce, Cherokee Purple and yellow and red Brandywine tomatoes, sweet Walla Walla and red Wethersfield onions, Turkish green olives, and chilled Romaine lettuce, on a lightly toasted 9-inch whole wheat bun seasoned with garlic and butter, served with giant deep fried batter dipped mushrooms and red Yukon potatoes roasted with garlic, olive oil, and mesquite. It’s especially popular with the linemen on the Freedom Village high school’s football team, and sumo wrestler wannabes.

The Fire Brick also deigns to build the Twin Turnip Tofu Sandwich for vegans, a slightly pretentious organic little fella sauteed in ultra lite, ultra virgin olive oil, adorned with delicate French mushrooms, Batavian lettuce, Campari tomatoes, carrot shavings, scallions, dill weed, sliced turnip, and super-light mayonnaise, on a croissant, and served with cold broccoletti-rutabaga-lentil-radish-kale soup. Vegans braving this meal, thought by Wokker to be nicely suited for Democrats and limp-wristed artists, pay $16.66. It’s usually served when the cows come home, but it stays on the menu to prove non-discrimination to the haughty human rights investigators who occasionally pay visits that Wokker loathes but can’t prevent.

Wokker also can’t prevent paying his cooks, waitresses, and bottle washers, the minimum wage. There’s no union, of course — innocently whistling The Moon Shines Tonight on Little Redwing can get a guy fired — but the thought that a kid has to be paid at least $7.65 per hour for flippin’ burgers drives Wokker nuts. A son of the Jefferson Davis south, he understands the value of cheap labor and considers it downright socialistic that a government has the power to tell a businessman how much he has to pay his employees. After all, it’s a free enterprise system: a man should be free to pay workers whatever he wants without guff from bureaucrats and union organizers, those bastards who preach collective bargaining when they really intend to bargain your business into a Bolshevistic workers collective. “I need a friend in the legislature,” Wokker tells his Texas Hold-em buddies during his after hours card games in the Fire Brick’s back room.


Well, Prescott, you finally do have friend in the legislature. His name? Jerry O’Neil, the Ron Paul Republican who represents Columbia Falls in Montana’s legislature.

Jerry’s game? LC1450, his request for a bill to “Eliminate minimum wage for high school dropouts.” That’s right. If Jerry succeeds, Prescott can get around the minimum wage by hiring high school dropouts to flip his King Cholesterols. Having a high school diploma or a GED certificate will be proof of over qualification at the Fire Brick Grill.

The kindest spin I can put on O’Neil’s bill — let’s call it the Keeping Poor Dropouts Poor Act of 2013 — is that he seeks to deter students from dropping out of high school. Skip school and forget about earning a living wage; for the rest of your life if you never return to the classroom.

That’s a cruel and unusual punishment for dropping out of school, and a repudiation of the principle of equal pay for equal work.

Prescott Wokker need not get his hopes up. O’Neil’s bill will be vetoed if it ever reaches the governor. Most likely it will die in committee. Which is fine, because it never should have been conceived by a legislator.