[Letter to the editor]Give unsung workers their due

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[Letter to the editor]Give unsung workers their due

The finely aged yet resilient aphorism, “You don’t really appreciate something until it is gone,” came to mind as I waited for the cooking staff to get dinner ready at my high school’s cafeteria.
For the previous three weeks, the cafeteria was closed due to winter vacation and I was left to manufacture my own distorted version of Korean food. I managed to survive this ordeal, shedding a few pounds and getting my mind ready for a new semester of dining hall food.
Although my stomach was churning at the smell of ham pancakes and fresh tofu soup, I couldn’t turn away from the frenzy that invariably engulfs the understaffed kitchen with its cheerful but underappreciated efficiency. The tedious work that they perform day after day is admirable and worthy of praise.
Yet in Korea as well as in America, there is little acknowledgement of those who feed the bodies of the next generation of the country’s scholars, engineers and scientists.
To Korea’s credit, teachers are duly respected in this deeply Confucian nation, and given sufficient pay and benefits. But it is quite unfortunate that cleaners and cooks are not viewed as equally indispensable.
As for the United States, besides a minority who recognize the contributions of America’s working class, society as a whole pays scant attention to underpaid teachers and kitchen staff who together power the young’s twin engines of personal health and intellectual development.
When I read recently that nearly a third of Americans are at or only slightly above the poverty line, it reinforced my belief that the disadvantaged among us are the most deserving of a much-needed pay increase.
According to recent economic data, American households, on average, take home essentially the same level of pay as they did nine years ago, when adjusted for inflation. That startling statistic is a call for Democrats and Republicans to engage in a serious conversation with employers around the nation about lifting the pay of the unsung who toil hard and remain stuck in a cycle of poverty.
As a former general manager of a restaurant, I am fully aware of the importance of cleaners, cooks, and minimum wage staffers to the productivity of a business operation. Without harmonizing work and pay for all layers of employees, service would be bound to suffer and subsequently affect the customer experience.
Workers of all stripes need to be compensated at levels that allow them to support a family, pay for health care, and provide educational opportunities for their children.
It is a moral imperative of this generation to recognize that those who nourish the minds and bodies of our children should not be looked down upon because they are of the “working class.”
Dennis Yang, English instructor, Gimhae Foreign Language High School
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