For the past two years fast-food workers around the world have been asking for two things: $15 per hour and the right to unionize without retaliation. The movement began in New York City, but it quickly spread across the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and even through the historically anti-union South:
Their argument is that $7.73 (the average hourly wage for a fast-food worker) is not a living wage. The median fast-food worker is about 28-years-old, and more than a fourth of those employed by fast-food chains have children. 70% work part time with something called “zero hour contracts.” This means employees are not guaranteed a set number of hours during any given week, and can be penalized with hour reduction for refusing to stay late or work on a day off, calling in sick, or participating in protests. This makes workers extremely dependent on their employers, as well as vulnerable to exploitation.
Additionally, a recent study from Berkeley University of Illinois shows that, while the food served at fast-food chains is cheap, those prices are kept artificially low through indirect government subsidies.
In the United States, fast-food employees receive almost seven billion dollars of taxpayer money every year because 52% of fast-food workers require public assistance. One McDonald’s employee--a Chicago mother of two who’d been with the company for ten years--called a help line McDonald's established for its employees, and was counseled to apply for food stamps and Medicaid.
While this latest fast-food worker strike was a huge step forward for the movement, economist Michael Strain says raising the wages of fast-food workers to $15 an hour will have unintended consequences, namely fewer fast-food jobs.
“You think you need a person to say, ‘Welcome to McDonald's, may I take your order?’ Nope,” says Strain. Computers and iPads could realistically replace many fast-food workers in the coming years, but they aren’t alone. A recent research report published by Morgan Stanley states that the United States leads the world’s developed nations in low-paying, high-turnover jobs. That's good news for robots manufacturers, and bad news for human workers.