The PJ Tatler

Burger Flippers of the World, Unite! The Drive to Unionize Fast-Food Workers

I begrudge no one their right to organize and join a union if they so choose. But these poor schlubs are being led down a primrose path to unemployment if they think that a burger or pizza joint can stay in business long if the workers are earning $15 an hour.

New York Times:

Fast-food workers at several restaurants in New York walked off the job on Thursday, firing the first salvo in what workplace experts say is the biggest effort to unionize fast-food workers ever undertaken in the United States.

The campaign — backed by community and civil rights groups, religious leaders and a labor union — has engaged 40 full-time organizers in recent months to enlist workers at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Domino’s, Taco Bell and other fast-food restaurants across the city.

Leaders of the effort said that workers were walking off the job to protest what they said were low wages and retaliation against several workers who have backed the unionization campaign. They said it would be the first multi-restaurant strike by fast-food workers in American history, although it was unclear how many workers would walk off the job.

I don’t envy people who work in fast-food restaurants, but neither do I feel sorry for them. Life is full of choices. Nobody is forcing anyone to work at McDonald’s. If you want something better, you have to better yourself. You have better your skills to make yourself more employable in higher-paying, higher-skilled positions.

Unless you’re an actor:

Raymond Lopez, 21, an aspiring actor who has worked at the McDonald’s for more than two years, showed up on his day off to protest. “In this job having a union would really be a dream come true,” said Mr. Lopez, who added that he makes $8.75 an hour. He said that he, and fellow fast-food workers, were under-compensated. “We don’t get paid for what we do,” he said. “It really is living in poverty.”

Au contraire, Mr. Lopez. You get paid exactly for what you do — a job that any 15 year old can perform with three days training. If you can organize a union under the trying circumstances of massive turnover and generally apathetic workers, I wish you the best.

McDonald’s took the high road:

McDonald’s issued a statement about the incipient unionization push. “McDonald’s values our employees and has consistently remained committed to them, so in turn they can provide quality service to our customers,” the company said.

It added that the company had an “an open dialogue with our employees” and always encouraged them to express any concerns “so we can continue to be an even better employer.” McDonald’s noted that most of its restaurants were owned and operated by franchisees “who offer pay and benefits competitive within the” industry.

What would a Big Mac cost if the workers were earning $15 an hour with union health care and other benefits? No doubt there are regional variations in price, but in my neck of the woods, a Big Mac is $3.79 and a Whopper is $4.89. So figure a $7 Big Mac and $8 Whopper if workers at my local burger joints unionize. At those prices, I’d go to a nice sit-down restaurant and get decent service. And I doubt that too many harried working mothers would spend $25-$30 a few times a month taking their kids out for a fast-food treat.

It may be less — if management cuts back on the workforce and many workers’ dreams of making $15 an hour end up on the sidewalk. And there would be a big push to automate a lot of jobs now performed by humans. Many full-time workers would be moved to part-time and the pace of franchise openings would slow considerably.

And how “fast” would “fast food” really be in a union shop? Moving people in and out in the least amount of time has a hefty impact on profit margins. Work rules that would slow that process down and affect productivity would lead to smaller profits and fewer new hires for the franchisee.

There is no doubt that some people are forced by lack of education, skill, intelligence, or ambition to work in a fast-food restaurant. But these jobs were never meant to be careers. At best, they work as entry-level jobs for kids and young adults. They teach them life skills that will hold them in good stead when they are ready to go out in the world and get a “real” job.

Unionization will destroy these opportunities for teens, as most of those jobs will go to adults who need the union wages to stay out of the poor house. What is gained by paying a “living wage” to low-skilled, unmotivated workers will be lost on the other end when young people first starting out find opportunities to learn how to work closed to them.