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Fast-Food Workers Deserve a Voice

Image via Chris Dilts on Flickr

Image via Chris Dilts on Flickr

There has been a deep divide in the labor movement in this country recently, particularly with unionization and collective bargaining. While some say that labor unions are corrupt and their power is slowly ruining the country, others insist that unions are the backbone of the American labor system and an essential part of our country’s prosperity. This divide has been exacerbated by states enacting “right-to-work” laws. However, an age-old issue is slowly creeping up through the depths of lost causes: raising the federal minimum wage.

Recently, fast-food workers have been on strike across the country, demanding that the minimum wage be increased to $15 per hour. This new movement comes in the aftermath of a controversial budget put together by McDonald’s and Visa, which details a suggested monthly budget for McDonald’s workers. The budget is pathetic to say the least, and even accounts for workers getting a second near full-time job in order to compensate for the lousy wages.

Fast-food workers are not a unionized force, and is partly attributed to the fact that there is a 75% turnover rate of fast food employees each year. So why is this? The obvious reasons: minimum wage, working fast-food is difficult and stressful, the job itself is generally not glamorous nor desire-able for the most part, and many of the workers are students in college and high school who move on to different jobs after a summer or a year. It is understandable why union organizers would be hesitant to enter into fast-food, but the consideration of better job quality with higher wage should at least be food for thought.

If the wage for fast-food employees was higher, the jobs would be more desire-able which could lead to a lower turnover rate. The big fear, pushed mostly by the right, is that even a modest wage increase would have devastating effects on the economy. A particular National Review article mentions the devastating effect such an increase could have on the already decimated Detroit.

But it’s a well-documented fact that when wages increase, employment decreases. The Employment Policies Institute has found that labor already costs the typical fast-food restaurant about a third of its income. If those labor expenses increase further, it will put Detroit’s much-needed fast-food jobs in jeopardy.

A Ball State University study, for example, found that when the federal minimum wage increased by 40 percent between 2007 and 2009, it cost 550,000 part-time jobs. And the Employment Policies Institute has reported that when the minimum wage increases by 10 percent, small businesses cut teen employment by between 4.6 percent and 9 percent. And minority youths suffer the most from such cuts.

Big Labor has marketed the fast-food strikes as a chance to fight for the well-being of Detroit’s poorest residents. And protesters are right: A minimum-wage fast-food job is hardly ideal. But having no job at all is even worse.

This article seemed to primarily focus on Detroit, but here is where I take the most issue with it. The article essentially states that increasing the minimum-wage would “put…much-needed fast-food jobs in jeopardy.” The article goes on to cite a Ball State University study that correlated a minimum wage increase by 40% between 2007 and 2009 with a job loss of 550,000. I do not claim to be an economist, but I would like to see if these statistics held up during a time when the global economy wasn’t in peril. However, the author of the National Review article seems to be disconnected with the subject they write about. “A minimum-wage fast-food job is hardly ideal. But having no job at all is even worse.” While this may be logically sound, it shows a disconnect with the real issues and struggles for people who work in the fast-food industry and implies that they should just suck it up and be happy they have a job instead of fighting for a better quality of life. This kind of attitude is exactly the reason why unions are so important; the voice of workers is silenced too often.

Fast-food workers, like any worker in the United States, deserve a living wage and a voice for their well-being. The question is not whether minimum wage is a living wage, because McDonald’s and Visa have kindly shown us that its not a living wage. The real question is this: what do we do about it? Is the answer to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour? Probably not. But the answer also doesn’t lie in ignoring the problem entirely.

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