Fast-food wages

Joe Bialek, Daily reader

Fast-food workers are adapting the Occupy Wall Street message in their own movement to push for a $15 minimum wage in restaurants like McDonald’s.

Deemed the Fast Food Forward movement, fast-food workers and their labor unions are collectivizing and staging walk-outs to protest low wages.

I recall when I was in high school that it was time to seek my first job opportunity. So, I decided to apply at McDonald’s, following in the footsteps of my brother
and sisters.

The first time I applied, the store manager asked me the proverbial question: Why should I hire you?

My response: Because I need the money. That was the wrong answer. 

The following year I applied to the same place. This time when asked the same question, I answered, “Because I can get the job done.” This time I got the job.

With my small amount of experience, I was actually able to take charge of a team and pull order out of chaos. This resulted in my promotion to swing manager when I transitioned from high school to college. Exploitation of my services was the furthest thing from my mind as the goal was to earn enough money to pay
for college.

The commonly accepted idea was that this was a temporary stepping stone to better career opportunities once you graduated from college.   I would certainly agree that my experience at McDonald’s allowed me to utilize some of my abilities. In other words, it wasn’t all just about flipping hamburgers.

One time the owner of the franchise put his hands on my shoulders and said he wanted me to be paid $4 per hour. It never happened and I spent the remainder of my time there earning just a smidgen above what the crew earned.

Today, we recognize the dramatic demographic changes that have occurred in the fast-food industry. Now, instead of young adults holding these jobs, the average age of a fast-food worker is now almost 30. It was
22 in 2000. 

Consequently, the industry has transformed from being a temporary stepping stone to a full-time career opportunity that still pays very little relative to the profits of McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.

One could argue that there is very little opportunity in our economy for someone with a high school diploma, especially for those with no diploma at all. These sorts of recession-proof service jobs are the only ones available, and it will be that way for a long time to come, in all likelihood. 

In the meantime, people employed by these companies still qualify for public assistance because of the low pay and lack of medical benefits. We read daily of the failure to teach people to read and write upon graduating college or even high school. If this whole situation doesn’t smell of a carefully planned booby trap, then I don’t know what does. 

Accordingly, I am in favor of increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. This would target service-sector jobs in fast-food restaurants to provide more livable wages, in addition to
other benefits.

I do not believe that doing so will cripple major chains. It may reduce the amount of money flowing into the top of these companies, but it is doubtful that it would alter CEOs lifestyles. 

Of course there are those who will argue that the price of the food will increase and result in less business and therefore less employment. But this is the accepted thinking of an outdated paradigm. Even Henry Ford was wise enough to pay his workers more so they could afford to buy his cars. However, perhaps in a corruption of this idea, McDonald’s low wages push employees to turn to its food rather than more sustainable

Major fast-food chains are time-tested businesses capable of paying employees livable wages. The Fast Food Forward movement has the right idea in demanding fairer wages from inequitable fast-food chains.