Strikes this week by fast-food employees in seven cities underscored how hard it is for Americans to live on a minimum-wage salary.
In Detroit, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Flint, Mich., workers at the most recognized brands of fast-food restaurants left their counters and kitchens to make a point. In many cases, they were joined by friends, family members, and clergy.
Demonstrators around McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and other outlets run by corporate giants that carve up a $200 billion a year industry were pushing for more than a boost of a dollar or two in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
They were marching for what they call a living wage — about $15 an hour — that would make working a second job to meet basic needs unnecessary. They also want union representation.
The employees complained of stressful job conditions, punitive bosses, unreasonable work rules, arbitrary scheduling, and few benefits. The industry responded predictably, saying its jobs aren’t designed for people with families, but rather for teenagers, college students, and retirees.
But the economy has contracted so dramatically in recent years that downsized workers who never would have considered jobs at fast-food restaurants are working there, many of them trying to raise families.
Low wages don’t do great things for restaurants, either. According to Time magazine, the National Restaurant Association estimates that a typical fast-food outlet sees 75 percent turnover in employees every year. The story also reported that a letter signed by more than 100 economists said that raising the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour would add only a nickel to the price of a Big Mac.
That’s a small amount to pay for meaningful change. We think most Americans would be willing to fork over a few more cents for a Happy Meal, if that meant happier times for the workers who prepare their food.