Creating A Living Wage For Fast Food Workers Would Cost Pennies For Business And Consumers

McDonalds in Downey, California. Photo by Bryan Hong

McDonalds in Downey, California. Photo by Bryan Hong

For the past week, seven cities across the nation have felt the effects of rolling walkouts by thousands of fast food and other low-wage workers, striking for a living wage and the right to join a union. The targeted cities were New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Flint, Michigan.

The strikes are being organized by a wide coalition of labor, faith and community groups, including Service Employees International Union (SEIU) A spokesperson for SEIU told Common Dreams:

This is not a flash in the pan. This is definitely something that is ongoing.

Strikes by low-wage workers really caught fire across the nation last fall when Wal-Mart workers walked out on the job in October and again on Black Friday. The momentum has been spreading and building ever since in the retail industry, especially fast food chains, and there are no plans to stop.

The movement is unusual because many of the retail outlets are franchises, rather than being centrally owned. The protests are aimed not only at employers, but at raising public awareness and pressing lawmakers to raise the minimum wage. As worker Terrance Wise of Kansas City told Democracy Now:

What else do we have to lose? We are already slowly dying in our day-to-day lives. So why not speak up, and stand up, and let the nation know that we are suffering? This is really a cry for help. This great nation should not turn its back on working-class people that need help.

While minimum wage employers moan and groan about how an increase in the minimum wage would devastate business, a group of 100 economists from across the country signed a petition in July in support of such a raise. Specifically, they were backing the “Catching Up to 1968 Act of 2013,” sponsored by Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida.

In the petition, the economists report these amazing facts:

  • Half of an increase from the current federal minimum of $7.25 to $10.50 an hour could be paid for, for McDonald’s workers, by increasing the price of a Big Mac by just five cents.
  • If the U.S. minimum wage had kept up with inflation and labor productivity since 1968, the current minimum wage would be $25.00.
  • Today’s minimum wage workers make less than the real value of the minimum wage in 1968.
  • A worker employed at today’s minimum wage, working every week of the year, makes $15,080 or 19% below poverty level for a family of three.
  • The average age for minimum-wage workers is 32-years-old even though they have been in the work force for an average of 14 years. This means that 90.7 percent of these workers are adults, not teenagers.

While the current federal minimum wage translates into abysmal conditions across the nation, there is at least one city that won’t be targeted for strikes. That would be San Francisco.  The City By The Bay has the highest minimum wage in the country. In January of this year, it went from $10.24 an hour to $10.55. For the past 10 years, San Francisco has been the leader on the minimum wage, and studies of it and similar cities have shown that, in spite of the arguments of the business community, raising the minimum wage does not have a negative impact on employment.

So next time you’re waiting in line for a Big Mac, ask yourself a couple of questions: Could I support my family on what the person behind the counter makes? Am I willing to pay an extra 5 cents for my sandwich so that he/she can do so? And if you happen to pass a picket line on the way to buy your lunch, try to show empathy and respect for the fact that these workers, with such a marginal existence, have been willing to lay everything on the line in order to gain a decent way of life.