Workers at the nation’s best known fast-food restaurants in seven cities across America are planning to walk off the job Monday to protest what they say are wages that are too low to live on. In a move orchestrated with the help of powerful labor unions and clergy groups, the workers plan to strike for a day to demand their wages be doubled.
The Washington Post reports that the protests will take place in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Flint, Mich., involving workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC. Some employees at stores including Dollar Tree, Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret are also expected to join the protesters in several cities.
The workers are calling for wages of $15 per hour, more than double New York’s current minimum wage of $7.25.
A network of local community groups, clergy and unions, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are backing the strike.
“SEIU members, like all service-sector workers, are worse off when large fast-food and retail companies are able to hold down wages and push benefit standards for working people,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told the Washington Post.
In New York City, the protests were organized by a group called Fast Food Forward, which states its Twitter account: “No one can survive on $7.25.”
“A lot of the workers are living in poverty, you know, not being able to afford to put food on the table or take the train to work,” Fast Food Forward director Jonathan Westin told CBS New York. “The workers are striking over the fact that they can’t continue to maintain their families on the wages they’re being paid in the fast-food industry.”
The group posted a photograph on its Twitter account early Monday depicting workers who have “walked out” in New York.
Fast-food workers in New York City earn an average salary of $11,000 annually. That’s less than half of the average daily salary — $25,000 — for most fast-food restaurant CEOs. Employees in the $200 billion industry make 25 percent of the money they need to survive in New York City while working at fast-food restaurants, according to the group’s website.
I sympathize with these people. Working in a fast food restaurant is an unpleasant job and they don’t get paid what they really deserve. The trouble is that no one gets paid what is actually fair. They get paid according to how much their labor is worth. There is no shortage of people qualified to work at McDonald’s and given the present unemployment rate, I doubt that McDonald’s is having too much trouble finding people to staff its restaurants. These factors tend to keep wages low. On the other hand, it may be unfair that a corporate CEO is paid more in one day than many are paid in a year, but there are not that many people who have the skills and experience to be a CEO. If you try to pay a CEO according to what might be fair, you may find it extremely difficult to attract somebody who is actually qualified, as Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream discovered.
Also, I don’t about the finances or profitability of these restaurants but it may be that their profit margins are slim enough that they cannot pay their employees much more without suffering losses. Most people do not go to fast food restaurants like McDonald’s for the fine dining experience. They go because the food is cheap and fast, so places like McDonald’s cannot raise their prices by very much, or they will lose customers and money. I am afraid that if these employees force matters, they may find out the hard way that while it is difficult to live on $7.25 an hour, it is far more difficult to live on $0 per hour.
I know this might sound harsh, but we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might like it to be. The simple truth is that your employer is not obliged to pay you a “living wage”. They are only required to pay you what your labor is worth, and sometimes they don’t do even that. If you are trying to live on minimum wage, then you need to take stock of your life and decide what skills and experiences you can acquire that an employer is willing to pay a decent wage for and then figure out how you can acquire them. This is not easy. In fact, it is very difficult, but it may be the only way you can get ahead. You will never get ahead by complaining how unfair life is, or how unfair the other guy was born with more opportunities than you have had. It is unfair, but we each must make the most of what opportunities are given to us.
- Fast food workers plan one-day strike for Monday (foxnews.com)
- US fast food workers walk out in organised strike against low wages (guardian.co.uk)