What 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.