Looks like America is gearing up for another painful lesson in the laws of supply and demand, as fast-food workers rise up across the nation to talk themselves out of a job by demanding doubled wages. The L.A. Times describes the big kickoff in New York City:
Beginning a day of protests that organizers say will spread to 50 cities and 1,000 stores across the country, a crowd of chanting workers gathered Thursday morning at a McDonald’sin midtown Manhattan to call for higher wages and the chance to join a union.
About 500 people, including workers, activists, religious leaders, news crews and local politicians, gathered outside the McDonald’s on Fifth Avenue. The protesters chanted “Si Se Puede” (“Yes, We Can”) and “Hey, hey, ho, ho $7.25 has got to go,” holding signs saying “On Strike: Can’t Survive on $7.25,” referring to the federal minimum wage.
The protesters plan to spread out to other stores throughout New York during the day. Protests are also expected in Los Angeles, Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., and other cities.
The L.A. Times also notes a heroic effort by the Employment Policies Institute, using a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, to warn the strikers that it might be feasible to eliminate a lot of their jobs with automation, if the cost of their labor is driven high enough. I’m not sure the WSJ was the ideal venue for transmitting that message to the people who really need to hear it.
A more immediately likely scenario is that the strikers will be fired and replaced from the ranks of the countless unemployed people who would appreciate having their jobs. Coercive power to enforce either higher wages by government mandate, or a monopoly for organized labor, is necessary to artificially inflate paychecks. Otherwise, there will always be someone ready to take low-skill jobs for the rates employers are willing to pay. The other wild card is the increasingly generous welfare state, which long ago ceased to be concerned with helping out the desperately poor, and now seems intent on teaching Americans that only chumps work for the government-mandated minimum wage.
If the protesters get their way, the price of fast food would skyrocket. The movement is fond of cooking up ludicrous studies that purport to show wages could be doubled with no effect on consumer prices. The hard, cold truth would be delivered in a shower of ten-dollar Happy Meals, followed by waves of restaurant closings. Then our intrepid Si Se Puede Brigade could have zero jobs for $15 an hour. It’s got “win” written all over it.
This whole movement is secretly backed by left-wing think tanks and Big Labor. I have a suggestion for those folks: why don’t you tap into your fat treasuries and open up a fast-food chain that pays everyone $15 an hour, while remaining price-competitive with Wendy’s and Mickey D’s? Show us how it’s done, union bosses.
The L.A. Times chatted with one of the protesters for a bit:
Derrick Langley, 27, stood in front of the chanting crowds, pointing to scars on his arms that he said came from cleaning the grill in the KFC restaurant where he works; he also has a second-degree burn on his right foot, he said.
“They don’t seem to care,” he said about his employers. “It’s horrible how they manage us, how they talk to us, how they treat us. They don’t respect us as human.”
The fast-food industry used to employ mostly younger people just trying to make some extra money as they went through school. Now, workers are older and depend on the work to feed families. Analysis by the Economic Policies Institute shows that the average age of minimum-wage workers is now 35, and that 88% are 20 and older.
“This morning, I’m out here taking a stand for all the fast-food workers around the world,” Langley said. “If you’re not going to stand up for yourselves, we will.”
I happen to be a grizzled veteran of fast-food employment myself, although I confess I got out of the racket a bit younger than Mr. Langley, moving along to a daredevil career in pizza delivery to get through my college years, when I earned every nickel of my room, board, and tuition through some form of restaurant employment. One of my jobs was at Long John Silver’s, where I found myself dumping battered fish and chicken into a vat of flaming-hot oil large enough to fry up a brontosaurus. I don’t remember seeing anyone with massive burns limping around. And how is any of that related to the demand for $15 wages? It’ll be okay for the orcs who run his KFC to burn him with oil and treat him like crap if he gets paid more? There’s nowhere for a fast-food employee in New York City to go with legitimate grievances about work safety and abusive treatment?
I like the little bit of righteous compulsion at the end there: If you’re not going to stand up for yourselves, we will. And if we drive your employer out of business, tough. We don’t care if you want to keep your job.
CBS News in Detroit reports that one of these protests closed down a McDonald’s restaurant. Great, just what Detroit really needed: another closed business.
Another CBS report claims the “fast food strikes underline a big national problem:”
Everyone has a sense that fast food workers don’t make a lot of money, but just how much less they earn than other Americans is spelled out in the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the study, the average hourly earnings for non-farm labor was $23.98 in July. For production and non-supervisory workers, the average hourly wage was $20.14. In contrast, the average hourly wage last year for the nation’s roughly 505,000 fast-food cooks was $9.03 an hour. The 2.9 million food preparation and serving workers had an average hourly wage of $9. Furthermore, the wages have been dropping over the last few years when compared in 1982-1984 dollars (an analysis that can account for inflation).
Compounding the problem is that food service workers are typically under-employed. The average weekly hours for all non-farm employees were 34.4 in July. But according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the average weekly hours for the overall leisure and hospitality category, which includes fast food, haven’t been above 26.4 since 2006. The numbers suggest that the average fast food worker, assuming working 52 weeks without vacation, makes about $12,355. The federal poverty guideline for a single person is $11,490.
Meanwhile, these jobs are no longer introductions to the world of work. The age of the average worker is 28, with 70 percent 20 years old or older, according to statistics compiled by AOL Jobs. One out of four has at least one child. A third has at least some college education. And, according to the National Employment Law Project, there is “limited occupational mobility,” so the positions don’t lead to higher paying positions let alone opportunities to own franchises.
The age of average fast-food workers is not remotely the fault of the people who hire them. Neither is their lack of “occupational mobility.” One of the biggest reasons their hours are being cut is something media liberals will defend to the last part-time paycheck: ObamaCare. Likewise, high-tax statist economic policies have created a moribund economy in which nobody is looking to expand, which cuts into those “opportunities to own franchises.”
The great untold story of the Obama years has been the rise of Waiter and Waitress America. Those cooked-up job reports that make Obama look like something less than a Soviet disaster have been concealing the huge surge of part-time and temporary jobs, even as the full-time workforce collapses at dizzying speed. There have been months when nearly all of the job creation came from low-paying retail and food-service positions. Only now, when fast-food workers go on strike and try to organize a proto-union, does the media suddenly discover that their ranks have swollen to incredible size.
If pressure groups are able to somehow impose an extra-legal super minimum wage on fast food restaurants, who’s left to earn the actual mandatory minimum wage? What’s the point of having a minimum wage law, if those who comply with that law are nevertheless castigated as villains? What happens to the rest of the American employment system if the wages of a large number of unskilled workers suddenly have their wages doubled? People in much more difficult, risky, and skilled positions are going to expect corresponding wage increases, or else they might as well just go work at McDonald’s. Do we really need another explanation for why “prosperity” cannot be created by legislating a fat salary for everyone?
But of course, this little “movement” isn’t going to agitate for an official doubling of the national minimum wage, because then economists with their guarantees of economic apocalypse would get involved. The people cannot be given an opportunity to hold a rational debate about whether they’re willing to destroy an industry, or dramatically increase the price they pay for food.
Everyone should want to earn more money. It’s a healthy ambition when it’s channeled into effort and excellence. Every employer wants to pay as little as possible, while every employee wants to earn as much as he can. It’s an eternal cycle that tends to produce the most efficient and productive allocation of labor, if left alone to run its course. It’s ideal to work for an enterprise that has the latitude to reward its star performers. That latitude disappears if there’s no room to pay the best person on the crew any more than the least energetic worker. There are plenty of economic ruins around the world you can inspect, if you’d like to see how that works out.
Fast-food employment really shouldn’t be a lifelong career for so many people; if they remain in the business, they should have opportunities to become professional managers or franchise owners. But those conditions cannot be created by demanding them. The entire American economy is out of whack. It’s not going to be fixed by using pressure tactics to eliminate the concept of the entry-level job. It’s always jobs that end up getting eliminated.