Fast food workers are free to strike

Published on Tuesday, 3 December 2013 21:17 - Written by

Tomorrow, some Americans may wait a little longer for their burger and fries. That’s because a nationwide strike has been called at fast food restaurants, by unions that want an increase in the minimum wage.

Such strikes fizzled in November, when a “nationwide” walkout included only about 200 workers (mostly in New York City). But organizers have higher hopes for Thursday.

“Seeking to increase pressure on McDonald’s, Wendy’s and other fast-food restaurants, organizers of a movement demanding a $15-an-hour wage for fast-food workers say they will sponsor one-day strikes in 100 cities on Thursday and protest activities in 100 additional cities,” the New York Times reports. “As the movement struggles to find pressure points in its quest for substantially higher wages for workers, organizers said strikes were planned for the first time in cities like Charleston, S.C.; Providence, R.I.; and Pittsburgh.”

It’s part of a push to raise the minimum wage across the nation. That’s long been a goal of President Barack Obama, but now a bill has been introduced in the House.

“The movement has momentum because most Americans believe that the federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour, the same as it was in 2009 — is too low,” writes Stephen Coll for The New Yorker. “A family of four dependent on a single earner at that level — making fifteen thousand dollars a year — is living far below the federal poverty line.”

But that’s the thing — very, very few families of four are living on a single minimum wage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 3 percent of the nation’s workforce gets the minimum wage, and more than half of those who do earn that wage are young people who are just starting out. And the vast majority of those who start at the minimum wage earn raises within one year.

Are there families struggling to get by on a single minimum wage paycheck? Yes, there are. But that job is better than no job, and it’s a route to better paying employment in the future as workers gain experience and job skills.

Closing off that route would hurt, not help the poor.

“A higher wage is great for the workers who keep their jobs; it isn’t so great for those who wouldn’t get hired because McDonald’s Corp. starts asking its existing workforce to do a bit more,” writes Caroline Baum for Bloomberg news service. “With a higher minimum wage, the cost of automating certain tasks suddenly becomes more affordable. Raising the minimum wage to lift people out of poverty has the opposite effect.”

When fast food workers held a strike last month, one worker appeared on CNN to talk about his job of 24 years — delivering pizzas. CNN’s Carol Costello asked him the obvious question — what’s he doing delivering pizzas for a quarter of a century?

“I happen to like my job,” he answered.

Good for him.

The point is that it’s easy to be generous with other people’s money.

Workers are free to strike, but businesses must remain free to pay what they can.