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Thursday, Feb 2, 2023
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Forgetting the Simpler Times

Forgetting the Simpler Times

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by Mark Lacter

My very first job was as an evening cashier at Kasdin Drugs in Miami Beach, where I rang up receipts from the soda fountain and got an early education on those slender filaments of life, from spotting bum C-notes to suddenly realizing one night that the overly made up lady buying cigarettes had much too deep a voice to actually be a lady (the place was next to a public beach frequented by transvestites).

Looking back all these years, it was as straightforward a work experience as I’ve ever had. No chatter about retirement plans or workplace rights; just manage the cash register and learn how to give out change. At the end of each week, Mr. Kasdin slipped me an envelope with my pay and I was as happy as a clam.

It’s too bad businesses can’t operate these days in the spirit of Kasdin Drugs. That is, do your job, abide by the rules and get paid a fair wage for your troubles no obligation for most anything else.

Amid all the soul-searching in this summer of corporate discontent, it’s worth noting how the role of a company has changed over the years. What had been a basic relationship of worker and owner has evolved into a medley of considerations that often has little or nothing to do with what kind of job the employee does and how successful the business is.

Companies have become society’s de-facto providers whether it’s medical coverage, life insurance, retirement planning or even counseling. So much effort goes into these peripheral matters that it’s any wonder there’s enough time or capital to run the business itself.

OK, I’m exaggerating a little, but keep in mind that providing health insurance coverage only dates back to the 1950s, when the first group plans were so cheap that it became an easy benefit to justify. But it’s always been a questionable concept, made even more so in recent years as soaring costs have led businesses to contribute only a portion of the premium cost, if that. Besides, relying on the generosity of your boss is not the best way of getting your medical care.

Other so-called benefits are suspect as well. It’s been almost a decade since former President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to leave their jobs for up to 12 weeks without fear of being fired. That’s a tough nut for a smaller business with limited staff, but it’s the right thing to do when an employee must care for an elderly parent or new child.

Now comes the whine about the 12 weeks being unpaid leave leading to the legislation already passed by the State Senate that would establish a mandatory insurance program to be funded by workers and businesses. The Assembly has yet to act on the measure, authored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, and there are hints that proponents might be willing to have the program funded entirely by workers.

Let’s hope so. Don’t get me wrong, there is a strong argument for extended, subsidized leaves, as well as a nationally regulated health care plan that takes care of those unable to pay their own way. But this is the stuff of government and the people. Don’t place these and other sore subjects of society on the backs of businesses. It’s never been their responsibility not during those summer evenings at Kasdin Drugs and certainly not now.

Mark Lacter is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at

mlacter@labusinessjournal.com.

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