As Fast Food Workers Walked Off the Job, Giant Industry Lobbying Groups Tried To Convince Us How Awful a Living Wage Would Be

StrikingFastFoodWorkers.jpg
Image via New York Communities For Change
Striking fast food workers in Union Square yesterday.
A summer of protests over fast food workers' impossibly low wages reached its boiling point yesterday, when employees in New York and 49 other cities walked off the job in a one-day strike. In Lower Manhattan, our own Raillan Brooks interviewed Tyeisha Batts, a 27-year-old Burger King worker who makes a staggering $150 a week. Meanwhile in an alternate, much plusher universe, several juggernaut industry lobbying groups waged a media blitzkreig, claiming that low wages are good for people like Batts. In fact, they argued, raising the minimum wage to $15 or even $10 an hour would hurt her and other "low-skilled workers" by denying them "the opportunity to get a job and receive 'on the job' training."

See also: Fast Food Workers Clog the Streets of Lower Manhattan for Fair Wages and Union Rights

"What fresh shovelful of bullshit is this?", I hear you asking. Great question. Hold your nose and follow me.

There are lots of companies who are threatened by the fast food workers' strikes, and those workers' sudden insistence on crazy luxuries like "union rights" and "non-poverty wages." McDonald's was very quiet yesterday, as was Burger King and Wendy's; none of the three bothered to issue press releases on the strike, although McDonald's did tell Salon, "The story promoted by the individuals organizing these events does not provide an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald's." Good to know: do not ask McDonald's workers what it's like to work at McDonald's anymore.

But three lobbying groups were happy to do the dirty work for the fast food companies, spending all day yesterday tweeting frenziedly, issuing press releases and dismissive statements about how paying these people more will ruin America. Those groups are the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association. All three of them pour millions into lobbying your lawmakers each year, and they all had some really creative arguments why a higher wage for fast food workers is just unthinkable. (Some conservative think tanks also chimed in, like the Employment Policies Institute, who ran this WSJ ad threatening fast food workers with replacement by robots.)

The National Federation of Independent Business likes to masquerade as a humble assistance group for small business owners. In fact, they spent more than $47 million on lobbying last year, and donated some $14 million to politicians, 90 percent of them Republicans and most of them at the federal level. Based in Tennessee, but with offices in D.C., the NFIB concern themselves with any proposed legislation they think is a threat to "free enterprise." And lately, Obamacare and a higher minimum wage are public enemies number one and two. They've argued against raising the minimum wage at all, even to $8.50, saying, basically, that keeping wages in proportion with the cost of living is a crippling burden the U.S. economy cannot bear.

To that end, the group had lots of fun promoted tweets yesterday, ones that often showed up when I searched for "minimum wage," " living wage," or "fast food strike." Here's one that showed up in my timeline frequently:

Fast food workers, according to the logic of NFIB chief economist and unbelievable name-haver Bill Dunkelberg, aren't "consumers." (How can they be? They don't make any goddamn money.) Therefore, anything that's good for them hurts the economy. The NFIB also argues that raising the minimum wage would deny low-wage workers that 'on the job' training that they would somehow, mystifyingly, not be able to get if they were paid a decent living.

Best of all, they claimed that most minimum-wage workers are from "above median-income families," "kids, students and so on" as Dunkelberg put it. In the fast food industry, that was true in the early '90s, when Bill Dunkelberg last bought a suit, but decidedly isn't the case anymore. Thirty-six percent of all fast food workers are aged 25 to 54, according to an analysis of government data for the Center For Economic Policy and Research, a progressive think tank. The analysts also found that most workers have a high school degree or higher.

The National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association -- both of whom spend similarly staggering amounts on lobbying and politician-buying -- also took the same sort of tack. The Restaurant Association told NBC News that only "five percent" of fast food workers earn the minimum wage, which is sort of true: the median wage for all food preparation workers is a whopping $8.78, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which, yes, technically is above minimum wage. Barely. Excellent semantics.

The National Retail Federation, meanwhile, focused on the fact that labor union SEIU is backing the protests. In a statement, Executive Director Rob Green said, in part, "A few scattered protests organized by outside labor groups hardly amounts to a nationwide 'strike' or movement," adding:

Beyond teen-agers and some part-timers, most restaurant workers make more than minimum wage, and can work their way up to management-level and corporate-level positions that provide rewarding career paths. These orchestrated 'strikes' and walkouts create headlines but do nothing to foster serious discussion about effective policies to create jobs in today's still-struggling economy.

The best way to "foster serious discussion," of course, is to ignore the country's low-wage workers when they take to the streets. That always turns out well.


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24 comments
1Guy2Girls.org
1Guy2Girls.org

Sure you can find the money to pay the workers; the problem seems to be preventing inflation:

1) McJobs' wages go up, to $15 (whatever)

2) teachers/cops/doctors/mac-owning-design-hipsters say, hey, uneducated people are now getting $15/hr. and we're skilled so we deserve more too!

3) retailers/landlords/government say, hey, now everybody's got more money, we gotta raise prices/taxes to make up for the declining value of a buck!!

The whole economy is based on scarcity, which is what determines value, which scarcity unfortunately does seem to reflect the facts of life fairly faithfully.  What's to prevent a "domino effect" whereby increased wages are simply met with increased costs???

We do believe in redistributing wealth towards the proletariat.  We just don't see how that will be achieved, realistically, given the conditions just cited.

frank124c
frank124c topcommenter

My suggestion to those who are earning minimum wage. Quit your jobs, tell the psychiatrist you are hearing voices and collect SSI or SSD and food stamps. You will actually be doing better than you do by working. Even welfare and food stamps pay more than minimum wage. 

Stevart
Stevart

This is what the third-world in the USA will increasingly look like.  After we "naturalize" the Mexicans et al. then we will really see the ills the rest of the world suffers: mass violence of ethnic, racial, religious, GENDER, etc.  Just a taste my left-wing genius' who accuse the USA of genocide, fascism, KKK-Nazism, and general oppression of the indigenous peoples....  Then when we are living just like the rest of the third world see if you like it. 

BBMW
BBMW

If the wage these companies are forced to pay goes to $15/hour, do you think the companies are just going to quietly pay it?  No.  The money involved will likely be enough to justify automating a lot of the jobs in these places.  Some already have a drink filling/delivering robot.  A German company already has an automated burger line.  I'm sure these places could get rid of half their workers if the cost of keeping them gets to high.

Benedictine
Benedictine

People seem to be under the impression that jobs not in the fast food industry pay anywhere near fifteen dollars an hour. In the last decade or so, more and more jobs have been paying around eight dollars an hour. Really. Nine bucks is considered a gift from God. Fifteen? Maybe in NYC. More and more jobs are requiring a 'certficate', or specialized two-year degree, obtained at one's own or the government's expense, for advancement beyond the entry level.

Someone, say a Department of Labor or something, should look into what is really happening to the American workforce. How did working people become a special interest group?

juanmpridemore
juanmpridemore

my best friends mom got a real cool Mercedes M-Class ML63 AMG just by some part-time working online at home. see here... C­N­N­1­3.C­O­M


colemine1210
colemine1210

Today's minimum wage, when adjusted for inflation, is lower than the minimum wage in 1963.  It really should be around $10-11/hour.

fratdawgg23
fratdawgg23

The Koch Bros-fueled Americans for Prosperity (of the One-Percent) is in favor of killing the minimum wage law, a notion that will eventually be proposed by one of their TeaBagger-backed politicians. 

Big Business vs. We the People.

charleyx
charleyx

Two things:

1)  If minimum wage works, why not make it $10,000 per hour.  Everyone could retire three weeks from next Tuesday.

2)  If you don't like your stinking job, go get a better one somewhere else.

1Guy2Girls.org
1Guy2Girls.org

We're totally for increased wages, but we're also curious: if fast food workers' wages go up, wouldn't everyone else's wind up going up, too?  And then prices go up as well, no?  Because what would a dollar be really worth if even menial laborers get fifteen an hour (though indeed under some circumstances they do, like in North Dakota or somewhere)....

fotograaf1957
fotograaf1957

The United States pays the LOWEST minimum wage of all the so-called first world countries.  Lower than England, France, Germany, etc etc......  Capitalism sucks.

joyofdiscord
joyofdiscord

@1Guy2Girls.org Missing the point.  Taxes are proportions so they automatically increase.  Second, effective taxation of the wealthy and corporate payers is already hazardously low, and getting these back up to sustainable rates more consistent with the 20th century would go a long way toward our national economic well-being.

If low-wage jobs increased substantially in pay, costs would go up only slightly, and they would go up as a painless consequence of a vastly improved overall standard of living.  This is so because the wealth of the poor really makes up such an insignificant amount of the total wealth available.  Redistributing a small portion of that extremely concentrated wealth to the population at large would barely make a difference to the wealthy or to the money supply as a whole, but it would make a HUGE difference in the lives of the people receiving the wages, who could instantly spend that money building themselves and their communities out of poverty and making the U.S. look more like a first world nation again.

On the other hand, skyrocketing wealth of the ultra-rich *does* instantly translate overall impoverishment. Their personal standards of wealth accumulation reach into the billions, to where they think nothing of devastating and impoverishing their workforces of thousands of people just to make that inhuman wealth pile grow even more.

If the fast food workers WIN, it will be a HUGE victory for labor, and you may well get a raise as a result, and it will FEEL like a raise, because it will be an actual success at wealth recuperation!

jurgan6
jurgan6

@frank124c If you honestly think it's that easy to get SSI or SSD, you've never tried.

joyofdiscord
joyofdiscord

@BBMW You're right to be cynical, but you're missing the point.  They already want to automate away, chisel, and exploit their workers as much as possible.  The ones that are still thare ARE necessary, for the time being.  Unionization of fast food would be one of the greatest victories for wealth recuperation so far in this century. 

fratdawgg23
fratdawgg23

@charleyx - Shilling for Big Business? Why are you anti-We the People? Rather un-American, bro.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@1Guy2Girls.org Do you also always use the royal "we"? Do you all get curious in tandem? That sounds interesting. 

I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about a food system that charges a dollar for a value meal burger and yet can't see their way to paying the person cooking the burger enough to get by. Restaurant workers are a huge percentage of our labor force, and fast-food workers a huge percentage of that. A business model that cannot pay them more than poverty wages is fundamentally flawed. You've seen the McDonald's "suggested budget" for its employees that assumes they have a second job, yes?  

If we're looking at cost cutting, perhaps we should start with McDonald's CEO Donald Thompson, who, according to Forbes, makes over $4 million a year, much of it through "incentive" programs that continue to incentivize him more and more each year, no matter how the company's doing. That might be a place to start. Just a thought. 

frank124c
frank124c topcommenter

@jurgan6 @frank124c I have in fact tried and succeeded. I now receive SSI, Social Security and food stamps. I will give free instruction to anyone who emails me. The point of my original post was that even people on welfare get more than if they work and get minimum wage. This is not the way things ought to be. 

Stevart
Stevart

@Anna_Merlan @1Guy2Girls.org How about we reduce his pay to minimum wage then let the hordes plunder his house and property and distribute the booty amongst the masses which will amount to if lucky about 10 cents each?  AND for good measure we'll hang him as a warning to the rest of the brilliant hard workers who oppress WE the people.  Better yet let's just have a REAL workers' revolution and seize control of the means of production just like in Das Capital.  You're a real *&^%$ genius Anna...has anyone ever told you that?  I'm jealous of your intellect.  BTW...saying just a thought is just a maudlin, sheepish way of saying that not even you take your thoughts seriously. 

howardhuges53
howardhuges53

@Anna_Merlan@1Guy2Girls.org"If we're looking at cost cutting, perhaps we should start with McDonald's CEO Donald Thompson,"

  Ann, how does one go from comparing a burger flippers hourly wage to the CEO's annual compensation? Take an economics course or watch one on youtube. Preferably before you stick your foot in your mouth again.

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