Is every American worker really a ‘star performer’?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Sen. Rubio has been pushing back hard on a quote attributed to one of his aides about how not all American workers are “star performers.” This sort of line is easily demagogued and, thus, potentially damaging to the cause of immigration reform. And so, this morning, Rubio responded with a statement, saying: “My belief is that the American worker is the most productive worker in the world.

This is consistent with what Rubio has always said. As RedState’s Erick Erickson writes, “You may not want to give the Senator the benefit of the doubt, but what he said this morning is consistent with his long held beliefs.”

But while I understand that this aide’s comments are inconsistent with Rubio’s views, and that the quote is potentially politically damaging, I’m not sure it is technically wrong.

Here’s the actual quote: “There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can’t get it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it.”

This is politically incorrect in populist America, where every police officer is a “hero” and where we blanket lionize our “workers” (USA! USA! USA!). But is it wrong? Is every American really a star worker? I think it is observably true that some Americans are lazy and incompetent.

Are all the bureaucrats at the IRS — or the DMV, for that matter — terrific workers?

Likely, not.

* * *

If you try to hire someone to work for you today, you might discover that not every American is a “star.” You might also find that some immigrants actually do have a better work ethic, act less “entitled,” and are even more trustworthy than their American counterparts.

Anecdotally, I have found this to be true over the years.

After putting in five years at a gas station, I worked my way through college by doing various things at various restaurants. One of these places was a pizzeria, and my experience there demonstrated that one Honduran named Freddy was equal to three Americans like me.

In a way, this made sense. I was a kid more worried about college, my band, and girls, than in the job. I was just there to make a few bucks. But for Freddy, this was his career. He was a professional pizza chef (this was one of those wood-fired pizza ovens, which requires a certain degree of mastery.)

Because part of my job was dishwashing, I would show up every day with a white uniform (tee-shirt) that — though it had been laundered — would never not be a bit orange-ish. Somehow, Freddy’s uniform was always as white as snow. Pressed and folded, too.

* * *

But here’s the story that tells you everything you need to know about me and Freddy. We would make these huge vats of tomato sauce every day, and as soon as they came off the stove, for reasons that escaped me, we would put them in the sink and pack ice around them. I inquired about this.

“Why don’t we just put it in the fridge?,” I asked.

“Mr. Rick says ice first,” Freddy said.

“But seriously, this is a waste of time. I’m not doing Rick’s busy work. I mean, why not just put it in the fridge? Is there a technical reason?

“Mr. Rick says.” (Then he proceeded to pack ice around the sauce, as he had done a million times before.)

* * *

As an American — and keep in mind, I was hardly a rich kid — I had to have a reason for doing this extra work. And maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer today. But it sure as hell didn’t make me a great employee.

Freddy didn’t know — and frankly didn’t care — why every single day he would cook sauce, and then he would pack ice around it (for those who don’t know, it was to ensure the sauce cools more rapidly, avoiding lingering in what the FDA calls “the food temperature danger zone.”)

Had I been Freddy, there’s no telling how many people I would have made sick. But all he needed to know was that “Mr. Rick” told him to do it.

Now, some may say this story is insulting. That it’s paternalistic. That it’s abuse. But the truth is that Freddy loved his job, and made a lot more money than he would have made in Honduras.

And, as an aside, this little American-owned pizzeria got a terrific employee who showed up every day with a starched white uniform, and happily went about doing his job, because that’s what they were paying him to do.

Matt K. Lewis