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.

Take Action!

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


Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

Every one must get paid enough to live on, reguardless of how low on the labor pole the job is.If a company can't do that, then all working age people must get a monthly stipend to live on direct from the treasury dept. and those pathetic fast food places can collapse unless the ones who work there want to accept a low wage as a chance to earn extra money.This rediculous arguement about whether entry level jobs should be about subsistence living is so far out of date it needs to be buried once and for all. Come on people! You are not machines! You must be paid enough to live on and it should not take unions or striking to accomplish this.

William & Katri D.
Katie & Bill D4 years ago

Well it's not all teenager's in this business, there are mother's who try to make a living for their families and even Seniors! the average age for a fast food worker is 28 does this sound like a teenager to you? The food quality will be better! Much Happier Worker's! Happy worker's are good worker's and show up and do their job! Everyone will benefit from this!! ALL WORKER'S EVERYWHERE! IT'S A START!

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

Curtis P. said "Welcome to McDonald's under our new $15/hour minimum wage plan! Uh, would you like $10 fries with that $15 burger?"

Or perhaps the McDonald's corporation could just take a little from that billions and billions of dollars in PROFIT and pay decent wages or maybe limit their CEO and executive compensation (you know the folks who are making millions of dollars in salary and stock options) and use some of that money to pay their workers a decent salary.

Everyone deserves a fair and decent salary and if you are against that, you are on the side of injustice!

Lyn B.
Lyn B4 years ago

If the minimum wage is raised to $10-15 that means everyone starts at that not just fast food workers.
For gods' sake, people deserve to be able to survive.

Teenagers do not make up the bulk of fast food workers. That's a thing of the past. Grown adults, the average age is 35! are 88% of the workforce.

Curtis P.
Kirk P4 years ago

Welcome to McDonald's under our new $15/hour minimum wage plan! Uh, would you like $10 fries with that $15 burger?

Will Rogers
Will Rogers4 years ago

Don't knock the workers! Knock the employers that are trying to pay them the least they can. So what if the earned 30 bucks an hour? Live and let live. When employers pay the minimum wage...what they're saying is that; if they could pay them less - they would!

Billie C.
Billie C4 years ago

since 10 an hour is good pay for educated workers around here 15 is way out of line for work that should be for teenagers. flipping burgers is not a career. around here only illegals can have those jobs anyway is that how obama is going to make sure the illegals become the new rich? he's been giving them everything so far.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

Tamara H. - Let me ask you, how is it that you are able to argue in favor of injustice?

These corporations are raking in billions and billions in profits and the people who work there and make that possible cannot afford to feed their families and your response to that is "that's life"?

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

David F. you know even less about Venezuelan history then you do about U.S. history (i.e. all your knowledge is crap from the conservative fantasy world and the right wing lie machine).

According to The Washington Post, citing statistics from the United Nations, poverty in Venezuela stood at 28% in 2008, down from 55.44% in 1998 before Chávez got into office.

Mark Weisbrot; Luis Sandoval; David Rosnick (2006). "Poverty Rates in Venezuela: Getting the Numbers Right". Center for Economic and Policy Research. p. 2.

Economist Mark Weisbrot found that, "During the ... economic expansion, the poverty rate [was] cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty fell by 72 percent.

Thomas Davis (11 March 2013). "Venezuelan Crude". HPUB. Retrieved 11 March 2013.