Dunkin APWhat kind of person would use the accidental death of a young woman as a vehicle from which to advocate for higher minimum wages? If you guessed the kind of individuals who work at The New York Times and Business Insider, give yourself a cookie — or possibly a doughnut.

Maria Fernandes worked at three different Dunkin’ Donuts in New Jersey, but she died Aug. 25 while napping in her SUV before one of her shifts started. The cause: a gas can that she kept in the back seat had somehow tipped over and opened, which filled her vehicle with fumes while she slept.

It’s an incredibly sad story, but one that has absolutely nothing to do with how much money she made at work and everything to do with the fact that she ignored her boyfriend’s warning not to sleep in her car with a gas can. Ms. Fernandes regularly refilled the can because she left her car running during extended naps.

That didn’t stop the New York Times from shamelessly using a woman’s death to push a political agenda:

In death, Ms. Fernandes has been held up as a symbol of the hardships facing our nation’s army of low-wage workers. Her friends say she earned little more than $8.25 an hour — New Jersey’s minimum wage — and passed her days and nights in a blur of iced coffees and toasted breakfast sandwiches, coffee rolls and glazed jelly doughnuts. …

In a statement, Michelle King, a spokeswoman for Dunkin’ Brands, said that Ms. Fernandes’s managers described her as a “model” employee. (Ms. King said she could not say how much Ms. Fernandes earned or describe the specific hours she worked, saying that only the three franchisees that directly employed Ms. Fernandes had that information. Ms. King declined to provide contact information for those franchisees.)

Business Insider took it even further:

The plight of service-industry workers has once again come to the forefront with the tragic recent death of Maria Fernandes. …

The incident highlights the fact that, in many places in the US, minimum wage isn’t nearly enough money for someone to live a healthy life, even if that person is extremely determined and conscientious. …

We used MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which estimates the cost of living in a given area based on the price of various necessities, to better understand just how many hours a low-wage worker like Fernandes would have had to put in every week to make ends meet.

According to MIT’s calculations, living in Newark, where Fernandes did, would require an annual pre-tax income of $22,528. That means that at New Jersey’s minimum wage, $8.25, a worker would have to put in a little more than 52 hours a week.

Only the mind of a writer blinded by his or her own ideological zeal can turn an accidental death into a clarion call for higher minimum wages. The New York Times and Business Insider writers were both are aware that Ms. Fernandes “doted on her pet Chihuahua and three cats.” They both know that she “often slept in her car — two hours here, three hours there — and usually kept the engine running.” They know these things, and yet they still have no qualms trying to convince readers that if only she were paid $20 an hour, then she would still be alive today. Nobody knows that.

As uncomfortable as it may be for Business Insider to hear, sleeping in your car for hours each week with the engine running is expensive. If you have to carry a gas can in your car because you keep running out of fuel while you nap, then you are probably wasting money.

As uncomfortable as it may be for the New York Times to hear, owning three cats and a dog can be expensive. If you are trying to save money for school, as Ms. Fernandes was doing, then having four animals to care for is probably a waste of money.

Regardless, the whole discussion is essentially moot because the one person who could ruminate on what she thought about her employers, minimum wage laws, and the price she was willing to pay to have pets in her life is no longer living. She has passed away, and instead of simply grieving for a woman whose time on earth was needlessly cut short, political vultures swooped down and grabbed whatever bits and pieces of her life story that could be easily exploited.

If you get a chance, say a prayer for Ms. Fernandes and her loved ones. If you have a few more moments, say one for the writers at The New York Times and Business Insider, so that they might see how sick it is to twist an accidental death into an advertisement for their pet political issues.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

11 comments

  1. This is really low. I don’t understand why $15 wages keep getting plugged, even when people are against it and there are good reasons for not doing so. Disrespectful agenda-pushing

    1. As Carl pointed out, these sorts of jobs are not meant to raise a family on. I feel bad for individuals with two kids who also have to work at a low-paying job. However, I’m not sure why the local grocery store should have to pay a cashier enough money to raise a family. It makes no sense, unless an individual thinks prices and wages are just arbitrary numbers.

      When I was in high school, most of those jobs were filled…with high school kids. Now, you see people who are 35-40 years old. I’m not saying that their moral self-worth is any less than the next guy, but I am saying that the Subway franchisee shouldn’t have to pay the 40 year old sandwich guy $40K a year because he has two kids and no plan for acquiring marketable skills.

    2. Exactly. They were meant as starter jobs for high school kids, nothing more. They weren’t meant to be something you made a living on. Not now, and not yesterday, either.

  2. Ms. Fernandes should be applauded; she figured a way out of her minimum wage situation when the NYT apparently can’t. If she’s working three stores, she was probably working her butt off, and had a plan to save for school. Hard work and a plan. It wouldn’t suprise me if she was a model employee.

    Obviously the gas can wasn’t smart, but having worked retail many years I feel bad for her; the break rooms aren’t conducive to naps. Regardless, sounds to me like she was using the low paying job as a stepping stone.

    1. I’m not surprised the NYT is exploiting the death of Ms. Fernandes in order to promote their raise the minimum wage agenda. It’s pathetic and disgusting.

      As I’ve stated in the past, those who want to raise the minimum wage don’t have a basic understanding of economics. It’s based on pure emotion and memes they see on Facebook. They fail to understand the jobs that will be lost if that were to happen, and how this will cause the prices of fast food to go up, and people aren’t going to pay that much money for it.

      Plus, as I’ve also said, fast food jobs and the like were not meant to be full-time jobs for the rest of your life. They meant to be entry-level jobs for when you’re in high school, nothing more. Politicians such as Obama and other liberals are promoting it to get yet another voting block for the Democrats, the unmotivated fast food workers who don’t want to improve their lives and stay stuck in limbo.

    2. The reason why I get annoyed with minimum wage political posturing is because I think about all the weird scrimping and saving and living situations I had to deal with over the years…and how easy it would be to adopt the “Oh, woe is me!” mindset.

      I basically lived in a cardboard box for four years while my wife was in school… Before that I lived in an apartment with a serious roach problem…and before that I had another apartment that would have had a bad roach problem, but I never had any food. I actually used to laugh because I’d find dead roaches. I’d personify their last thoughts: “What the heck is up with this guy? He’s got nothing!”

      When you have a very specific plan for what you want to do, and then you work diligently at it, typically things pan out over time. It’s painful, but it’s worth it. I don’t take kindly to people who act is if I just magically started out where I am today. Sorry, but it basically took me 16 years to get to a place where I had a bit of financial breathing room from month to month. I’m not complaining — I’m just saying that when people demand $20 an hour to ring up my burger I’m not going to take them very seriously.

    3. That’s another thing, where does it end? So if “everyone” is making 15 an hour, then the ripple effect goes where those presently making 15 get bumped up etc etc. Then all price levels rise, and now 15 isn’t a living wage……unfortunately there will always be a lower rung of the payscale.

    4. Yep. If you worked two years at Dunkin’ Donuts and were a model employee, got yourself up up to $13 while living in N.J., and then overnight the minimum waged was changed to $15, I guarantee that you wouldn’t be happy making exactly what the brand-new guy makes — especially if he’s a goof.

      It reminds me of the Occupy movement that fizzled — its members talked as if you could essentially chop off the “One Percent.” Umm, no. There will always be a top 1% of wage earners in the countries, guys. Short of giving Communism the old college try (and a lot of them did want to do just that), their rhetoric was a jumbled mess. You can rail against capitalism in New York while happily using your iPhone, drinking Starbucks, etc.

    5. I believe her co-workers used that exact phrase, Patrick: “model employee.” Spot-on!

      When I worked the overnight shift at Target, there were guys that would find giant bean bags to sleep on during the 30 minutes we had off. There was a period of time where I was working the overnight shift and then sometimes I’d have to go to school in the morning. I also took little naps in my car, although usually I’d run the car for 20 minutes, turn it off…and then turn it on again when I got too hot or cold (depending on the season).

  3. Every tragedy seems to get politicized these days, no matter how far the stretch. I remember one speech given at a political convention that was so over the top, it left me fighting giggles and pretty much shattered my illusions about all this alleged compassion.

    Anyway, this woman had to walk barefoot in the snow five miles each way to get to her chemo appointments because she had cancer and when she got home she slept on the floor without even a blanket. To make it even more depressing, her roof leaked right over the spot where she slept. Naturally the only way to relieve this woman’s distress was through healthcare legislation. The story was obviously fabricated and exaggerated to pull at your heartstrings, but it wasn’t played well, because at the end they all talked about driving by and watching her on her barefoot trek through the snow, week after week. Did anyone ever offer her a ride, take her to a garage sale to buy a blanket and a pair of shoes? No, they drove by and waved and then exploited her story for all the political worth they could squeeze out of it. With friends like that, you’re probably better off without any.

  4. “If you worked two years at Dunkin’ Donuts and were a model employee, got yourself up up to $13 while living in N.J., and then overnight the minimum waged was changed to $15, I guarantee that you wouldn’t be happy making exactly what the brand-new guy makes — especially if he’s a goof.”

    Don’t forget all of the people who went to college and had to pay thousands to earn more…ouch. How about the retirement and savings accounts that found the spending power cut due to cost increases…ouch.
    Why do the unions push this…simple it will give them a reason to push for more money for skilled labor (getting them more money).
    Why does the government push this so much…simple more income tax.
    This is just a fake ploy to get more money at the expense of the working man.

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