Renewed discussion in Harrisburg about a minimum wage hike has many Pennsylvania used car dealerships licking their chops in anticipation of a potential car-buying boom. The state’s current minimum wage, which has held at $7.25 for the last 12 years, is among the lowest in the nation. The federal minimum wage is also currently set at $7.25, meaning that Pennsylvania employers couldn’t technically pay their workers any less than they currently do.
The Republican-led Senate has rejected $15 minimum wage bills in the past, but a proposed rate of $10 was recently suggested by two GOP senators, breathing new life into the possibility of an increase. The price of necessities like groceries and prescription drugs has risen by as much as 34 percent since the last time Pennsylvania’s minimum wage was increased, putting a strain on workers with stagnant wages.
“I don’t get what all the hubbub is about,” said State Senator Percival Lakehouse III. The 27-term lawmaker says that while the current minimum wage might amount to pennies on the dollar compared to other states, pennies themself are a proud tradition in the land of the Philadelphia Mint. “Last time I checked, it was called PENNsylvania, not DOLLARsylvania,” he said.
Pennsylvania State Senator Percival Lakehouse III entertains the press with his clever wordplay.
Job satisfaction is also at an all-time low among minimum wage workers, though an industry-financed study couldn’t determine any concrete reasons for the trend. “Do I feel valued at my job?” asks fast-food employee Donna Traverse. “Well, in the last decade, I haven’t seen one raise, but now we have a bunch of flat-screen TVs in the dining area, so that’s nice, I guess. They play the same four advertisements over and over, but at $7.25, I can’t afford cable, so it’s something,” she says, adding that her current favorite show is that one about the new jalapeno poppers.
Doing a Public Service
While any concrete legislation is still a ways off, the proposed bills could potentially double the state’s minimum wage over the next ten years. Eager to help customers reduce the potentially scoliosis-inducing task of hauling around twice as much cash, the state’s used car dealers are gearing up to serve the nouveau riche with a slate of new promotions, products, and financing options.
In Scranton, Liberty Bell Auto is trying to gin up sales with their unique “Buy Now! Think Later!” promotion; anyone who buys a car before a minimum wage bill is passed will be locked into the current price, regardless of whether their take-home pay soon doubles. “You’re paying the same price, but making twice as much money, so basically you’re paying half price,” says Liberty Bell owner Steve Doosan, who then mumbles something very quick and disclaimer-y sounding under his breath.
Referred to in promotional materials as the “Very Smart and Good Looking Person Genius Price”, Doosan says the math checks out, but also mentions that all calculators are now banned from the sales floor.
The looming wage hike has spurred other changes at Liberty Bells, where the once-complimentary donuts and coffee are now $5 each. Doosan claims that the increase is tied to Starbucks taking over concessions for the dealership, but upon closer inspection, the iconic mermaid logo seems to be drawn on the cups with crayon. “We have a world-class barista on staff now. Yeah, he used to be the guy who spins the big red arrow on the side of the road, but it turns out he also does a hell of a flat white,” says Doosan, pointing to a young man making an espresso machine hiss with his mouth while sliding a pod into a Keurig machine.
Profit Is the Mother of Invention
Rick Spencer, owner of Altoona-based Rusty Rick’s Used Car Emporium, says it’s the responsibility of the state’s car dealers to help ensure that worker’s wallets don’t burst under the pressure of their newly-inflated paycheck. “A new wallet can cost $20, even $30. Higher minimum wage might sound like a good idea, but my god, just think of the poor wallets,” says Spencer. “The modern American wallet was only made to carry an average of $3,500. Incidentally, we have a bunch of recently marked down Tercells that go for exactly that amount,” he says.
A tinkerer by nature, Spencer is taking the wage hike as an opportunity to introduce some bold automotive ideas into the market. His latest creation is a double-wide Dodge Neon, created from two existing Neons bound together with zip ties and something that smells suspiciously like mint dental floss. The car isn’t road-legal and is technically categorized as a mobile sculpture by the state’s DMV, though this information does not appear anywhere outside of some extremely small print in the sale agreement.
“I figure the wage is going to double, so the cars should double too,” Spencer says. “Two cars is twice as good as one car; I mean, it’s pretty simple math. These Neons were just rusting out in the back lot for years, but if they’re good enough for three generations of raccoons to live in, they’re good enough for our customers!”
With 67 percent of the state’s electorate in favor of a wage increase, it’s now more of a question of when rather than if. The hike is bound to buoy all sectors, but used car dealers see themselves as uniquely positioned to take advantage. The car buying process is often a murky one, with fees and surcharges tacked on for seemingly little reason. Combine this with a newly moneyed customer base, and this opaque pricing model is ripe for exploitation.
“We have a number of…innovations we’re ready to unveil that just happen to coincide with the wage increase,” says Spencer. While the efficacy of undercoating has been debunked since that 1998 Seinfeld episode (“Oh, we don’t even know what that is.”), today’s dealers have a new suite of mysterious sprays and treatments to offer.
These include overcoating, a process that Spencer assures us is entirely different than undercoating. “It’s like undercoating, except it goes OVER the car. Of course, to properly apply it, we have to flip the car 180 degrees, so yes, technically, it still ends up on the bottom, but that’s just a technicality,” Spencer says.
Other treatment options include tire wax, antenna protectant, seat belt polish, and headlight conditioner. Some dealerships are even bringing in professional audio engineers to offer chromatic horn tuning, giving customers the peace of mind that when they express their frustration in traffic, they won’t sound all pitchy.
At Liberty Bell Auto, Doosan has looked to the East for inspiration, hiring a traditional healer to help drivers address an often overlooked aspect of the driving experience: a qi-friendly glove box. The dealer’s new glove box feng shui consultant will assist in optimizing flow, balancing out the car’s manual and registration papers with, say, a small rock garden or water feature. “Just don’t stop short, or it’ll be a real mess,” advises Doosan.
With the minimum wage bill mired in the political muck of Harrisburg, it’s hard to know just what the future holds for the state’s hourly workers. Rest assured, however, Pennsylvania’s used car dealers are always dreaming up new ways to serve their loyal customers and won’t rest until they perfect the process of separating them from their hard-earned cash.