I fully support people making as much money as they can. (Well, legally, that is.) If you are working somewhere and you feel like you aren’t being paid enough, stand up for yourself. Speak out. Try harder. Do what you can to get what you think you’re worth. If you succeed, great. If you don’t, perhaps it’s time to move on.
On one hand, I fully support the efforts of fast-food workers across the nation who protested last week in pursuit of higher wages. If I were working full time in a fast-food restaurant for minimum wage, or even for the $9-an-hour median wage fast-food cooks make, I would want to be paid more money, too. The $15 an hour (or "living wage") some are seeking would be an improvement. On the other hand, I also recognize that suddenly giving thousands of employees what amounts to a 100 percent raise would likely be counterproductive for everybody involved.
For starters, if, say, cashiers or fry cooks received substantial, across-the-board raises, other employees would also want raises—including employees who are already making more than (or close to) minimum wage. And the restaurants would have to give them those raises, too, or else risk losing them. It’s easier to find replacements for lower-skilled, entry-level positions (as fast-food restaurants already do constantly) than it is to find replacements for positions requiring more training or experience.
Also, although people with more experience or education might pass on $7.50- or $8-an-hour fast-food jobs, they might reconsider if the jobs paid $15 an hour. (I know plenty of people with degrees who are working jobs in their fields of study that pay less than that.) If this segment of folks started taking these low-skilled jobs because of the increased pay, lesser-skilled workers would be increasingly nudged out. Those who do the hiring would have a bigger, better pool of candidates to pick from. Turnover would be lower; and customer service, one of the fast-food industry’s biggest longtime stumbling blocks (at least from my point of view), would improve.
Another aspect to consider is the price of fast food. Generally speaking, the quality and nutritional value of fast food can leave a lot to be desired. One of the main selling points of fast food is its affordability. It is a comparatively cheap way to eat out, and the more that people have to pay for it, the less they will want it. If wages increase as much as some hope they do, that cost will be passed down to consumers. Though a company like McDonald’s may have reported a profit of $5.5 billion last year, it’s almost never the corporation that pays the hourly wages of the employees working in the restaurants. At more than 90 percent of the McDonald’s locations in the U.S., the franchisees do. And franchisees say slow sales have prompted the company to squeeze them on things like rent, supplies, training, software, and royalties and fees for use of the McDonald’s name and brand. Add to that the super-thin profit margins they make from selling the super-cheap menu items customers have come to expect, and the ability to drastically raise wages without raising prices becomes an impossibility. Barring a drastic restructuring of the relationship between the company and the franchisees, I don’t see this changing any time soon. (Could unionization be the answer? Perhaps. But, frankly, I see unions benefiting more from potentially millions of new members than I do the employees benefiting from unionization in this case.)
I used to work in a fast-food restaurant. I started out making minimum wage and received a single 10 cent raise in two years working there. It wasn’t the worst job in the world, but it was also my first job, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be there forever. I learned that I wanted more out of life and worked for it, both in school and in all my subsequent places of employment.
I don’t like to see anybody struggle. I wish nothing but the best for those on the frontlines of this battle. I hope they get all that they feel they’re worth. I also hope they realize that there are some jobs that will never, ever be able to give that to them.
Bill Colrus writes about (in no particular order) local news, culture, music and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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