Featherstone: It's time to supersize fast food workers' wages
It was a protest with a simple message.
"Can't survive, can't survive," chanted several hundred workers from McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Domino's, Papa John's and KFC outlets throughout the city, marching around Union Square on Monday. "Can't survive on $7.25."
Reysha Colon, 21, who was on strike from a Burger King in the Bronx, explained, smiling shyly, that she never comes to protests. "I never come to strike."
Yet Colon joined thousands of other fast food workers in this week's nationwide strike because she needs higher wages. Visibly pregnant, she has other problems in her store as well. Management has reduced full-time workers' hours to halftime, to avoid paying for their health insurance, she says. This is common practice in the fast food industry.
The striking workers are asking for an hourly wage of $15. The industry will argue that this is too high, but the companies are just being greedy. There's no good reason why Colon and her colleagues can't be paid the living wage they deserve.
Often fast food companies and their apologists claim that raising wages penalizes consumers by driving prices upward. But University of Kansas School of Business researcher Arnobio Morelix found that if McDonald's doubled its workers' wages, the cost of a Big Mac would go up only 68 cents, while a Dollar Meal would increase to a barely-noticeable $1.17 (though I guess they'd have to change the name). His model assumes profits are kept at the same absolute number.
In reality, this raise could be accomplished with a smaller price hike: In his model, Morelix doubled all McDonald's employees' salaries -- including that of the CEO, who makes $8.75 million. Just doubling the wages of the hourly workers would be much cheaper.
The industry often claims that fast food jobs are a steppingstone to a better life for workers. But a new study by the National Employment Law Project shows that managerial positions make up just 2.2 percent of jobs in the fast food industry: Prospects for upward mobility are thus quite dismal.
Raising fast-food wages to $15 an hour would make a serious difference to many working New Yorkers and their families, and would hurt no one. It's badly needed, and long overdue.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.