Over the past couple weeks, fast food workers across the country have been holding walkouts and rallies across the nation. Thousands of employees in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Missouri, and Flint, Michigan held one-day strikes on July 29th, according to The New York Times. The low-wage employees, who work for fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Domino’s, and Burger King, and more, continue to protest for a $15 per hour salary and the right to form a union.
This is not the first fast food strike we’ve seen. Fast Food Forward, a labor campaign, has been supporting New York City fast food employees since last November, urging people to sign a petition for higher wages and more rights, like the right unionize. The fast food industry makes $200 billion per year, according to the movement, and workers make an average of $11,000 per year, which is less than half the amount that most fast food CEO’s make on a daily basis.
Organizations such as New York Communities for Change, Jobs with Justice, Action Now, and the Service Employees International Union have been aiding the labor campaign, according to Chicago Tribune.
U.S. fast food workers make an average of $9.02 per hour, and they are asking for an increase in wages to $15 per hour. This is more than double the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25. “When you make minimum wage, you don’t have a heck of a lot to lose by speaking out,” said McDonald’s employee Kareem Starks told Milwaukee Courier. “But remaining silent is not an option because it’s nearly impossible to survive on $7.25 an hour.”
In an open letter, over a hundred economists signed the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute’s letter, “Economists in Support of a $10.50 U.S. Minimum Wage.” The letter claimed that by raising the price of the Big Mac from $4.00 to $4.05, McDonald’s could pay for half of the business cost increase of raising the minimum wage to $10.50.
“If a worker today is employed full time for a full 52-week year at a minimum wage job today, she or he is making $15,080. This is 19 percent below the official poverty line for a family of three,” the letter also states. “Raising the minimum wage to $10.50 would deliver much needed living standard improvements to 45 million U.S. workers and their families.”
Not everyone supports the fast food strikes. Scott DeFife, the executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association, told The New York Times that the strikes are “an effort to demonize the entire industry in order to make some organizing and political points,” adding that only a small portion of restaurant jobs pay minimum wage, and most of those jobs are taken by employees under 25 years old.
DeFife also told NOLA.com that increasing wages would make it more difficult for the private sector to create jobs, “especially those typically filled by first-time workers and teens.”
In the Political Economy Research Institute’s letter, on the other hand, economists argue that “only 9.3 percent of the workers who would benefit from this [$10.50] minimum wage increase are teenagers; i.e., 90.7 percent are adults.” The average age for fast food workers is 32 years old, they wrote, and the employees have been working in the industry for an average of fourteen years.
But raising wages is not that simple. Michael Saltsman, a research director at the Economic Research Institute, referred to a study showing that raising the minimum wage can lead to reduced hours and cut jobs, Boston Globe reported.
It is difficult to unionize and get higher wages, but the recent strikes bring these issues to the forefront. “No one wants to work for $7.25 an hour… [and] have a job with no benefits,” Brooklyn clergyman and City Council candidate Kristen John Foy told Forbes.com. “These are not ignorant people. If they could, they would be doing something more rewarding and fulfilling and better compensated than flipping burgers.”