Why It’s Important for Fast Food Workers to Fight for a Just Wage
There’s something really wrong with the $200 billion fast food industry and it’s not just that the food they serve is full of fat, sugar, sodium and calories. The average wage for fast-food employees is $9 an hour.
That’s a whopping $1.75 over the current minimum wage but, as researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have noted, a single adult living in Milwaukee needs to earn $9.48 to support themselves, in Chicago it would be $10.48 and in New York, $12.75.
On August 29, workers and a coalition of labor, religious and other groups are calling for a nationwide strike of fast food employees.
The nationwide day-long strike follows a number of one-day work stoppages at McDonalds, KFC and Taco Bell franchises held across the country earlier this year.
A public relations agency, whose clients include the Service Employees International Union and Unites Food & Commercial Workers, made public the call for the strike. Others who have expressed their support are the United Auto Workers and the Presbyterian Church USA.
The groups are calling for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers, as well as more protections for those who wish to unionize.
Annual income for the roughly 2.9 million food preparation and service workers and for the 505,000 cooks currently adds up to $18,720 and $18,780, respectively. But most workers earn even less than that as many franchises only let employees work part-time so they cannot qualify for health care and benefits. This practice could, some say, grow under President Barack Obama’s health care plan.
“You can stimulate the economy by lifting up one of the largest employment sectors in the country. This would raise their standard of living,” says Service Employees International Union spokesman Ray Pok.
Ed Wertheim, an associate business professor at Northeastern University, argues that the strike could make things worse. Turnover rates as high as 75 percent a year are one reason that fast food workers have long struggled to unionize. “The mind-set among the vast majority of these workers is that they’re not going to be in it for the long haul as a career,” he says.
Workers, Franchise Owners and the Central Company
Franchise owners, displeased about the announced strike as well as the previous work stoppages, contend that they are being squeezed between employees and the fast food companies themselves.
McDonald’s made a total of $27.6 billion, $5.5 billion of that in profits last year. For it and other companies, franchising is a lucrative source of revenue. Franchise owners must purchase food and supplies from the central corporation rather than seek out lower-priced goods; they may also have to pay for advertising. McDonald’s also charges owners 4 percent of gross sales as well as rent (if the company owns the real estate for a franchise).
A 2010 Deloitte study for the National Restaurant Association found that franchises spend anywhere from 22 to 35 percent of their income on salaries and wages. As these are the one area in which owners don’t take orders from the central corporation, they can set wages at whatever rate they wish. Should wage disputes arise, a parent company can claim that it does not get involved in such matters.
Fast Food Workers Deserve a Fair Wage
Fast food workers are “certainly viewed as being easily replaceable,” Wertheim also notes. They are, in no small part because of the way the industry is set up, to maximize profits for the parent companies. Workers, who perform the essential tasks of preparing food and providing service to customers, rotate in and out the door, all while making less than anyone needs to survive on.
There’s no question that fast food workers are owed a just wage. It is ridiculous that they have long been unable to unionize. With fast food restaurants a ubiquitous feature of the American (and, more and more, the global) landscape, it’s imperative that calls for fair and just treatment of workers be supported on August 29 and beyond.
Every worker deservers a fair living wage, but without change, fast food employees will continue to struggle to support their livelihoods. Sign this petition to take action and tell fast food corporations to provide a just wage.
Photo via mtume_soul/Flickr