Thousands of fast food workers are planning to go on strike in 50 cities across the nation Thursday seeking higher wages. According to organizers, workers at various fast food chains including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Burger King, and Wendy’s. This is expected to be the largest of a recent series of strikes by the un-unionized workers.
The workers are pushing for a living wage, asking the chains pay $15 per hour or $31,000 a year for a full time worker. Most fast food workers earn minimum wage or slightly above that or less than $20,000 a year full time. For most full time workers, their wage is below the poverty line.
President Obama has called for the national minimum wage to be raised to $9 per hour, and Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California is pushing for a $10 minimum wage. The president has said that is it wrong for a person to work full time and still live in poverty in the richest nation on earth. These low-wage jobs account for 48% of our economy. If minimum wage just kept up with inflation it would be over $11 an hour.
Fast-food workers say they can’t live on what they’re paid, and who could? The cost of living is much higher in Manhattan or San Francisco than it is in a small town in the rural south. It would be very difficult for a full time worker to provide for their family on $7.25 an hour in rural Tennessee let alone save for their children’s education or save for retirement. It is folly to think they could do so in New York.
According to the National Employment Law Project, fast-food jobs — which include cooks, cashiers, delivery workers and other non-managerial positions — rank among the lowest-paying occupations in the U.S.
Representatives of the food chains say that $7.25 is the starting wage and 75% of their workers earn more. What they don’t say is that most earn less than $9 and hour.
To make matters worse for the workers, they can not count on getting 40 hours a week. Often when a worker gets a raise, their hours are cut and the slack is taken up by entry level minimum wage part-time workers.
McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say they don’t make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants. That may be true, but these chains make franchisees follow strict rules on menu, branding, signage, store design, uniforms, and packaging. If they had a social conscience, they could add a rule on wage standards as well.
The very profitable multi-national corporations claim if workers were paid $15 an hour, or even $9 an hours the world, 25% of the restaurants would go out of business. They claim they would have to hike the price of burgers and tacos so high no one would buy them.
The National Restaurant Association says the low wages reflect the fact that most fast-food workers tend to be younger and have little work experience. Scott DeFife, a spokesman for the group, says that doubling wages would hurt job creation, noting that fast-food chains are already facing higher costs for ingredients, as well as new regulations that will require them to pay more in health care costs.
The regulations on health insurance the association referred to does not take affect until 2015, but the industry has used it as an excuse since 2009 even though the law has not taken affect and the employer mandate has been delayed until 2015.
Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, said that a hundred of the top economists have come together and said that increasing the minimum wage for all workers in general would not cause an adverse effect on employment and the cost of products. At lease people who work at McDonald’s could afford to eat at McDonald’s.
There is another option. Rather that pushing the cost of a living wage onto consumers, these highly profitable corporations cold reduce their billion-dollar-a- year profits slightly to pay their workers a living wage. What a thought.
Americans should honor the strike and not eat at fast food restaurants Thursday. A rising tide lifts all boats
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