Our opinion: Fast-food workers deserve better

Thursday August 15, 2013

It seems an age-old joke, now, that anyone unable or unwilling to get a good job could go work at a fast-food restaurant with a bunch of fresh-to-the-workforce teenage crowd.

Of course, the axiom of a bunch of goof-offs doing whatever they want, just wasting the hours away before clocking out and going home, doesn't exactly hold true, today. Given the years-long recession, these days some folks would do just about anything for a stable job at an established business, even if it is a fast-food restaurant.

As our colleagues at the Berkshire Eagle pointed out, in an editorial last week, go to any fast-food chain location "and you'll see harried, industrious workers whose low pay is not commensurate with their efforts."

Over the past several weeks, their counterparts in New York, Chicago, Washington, Detroit and an increasing number of smaller cities have been holding one-day strikes in an effort to draw attention to their low, stagnant wages, the Berkshire Eagle editorial board writes.

Their case for better treatment is a strong one. And we agree.

Did you know the average fast-food worker makes roughly $9 an hour -- not a living wage, to be sure, especially for anyone working to support a family.

The Berkshire Eagle editorial board states: "While that is higher than the $7.25 federal minimum wage, that is no satisfaction, as the minimum wage should be about $10 an hour if inflation and the increase in average wages over the past 50 years were factored in. Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage to that level are stalled in Congress. The fast-food workers are pushing for raises to $15 an hour, which may be unrealistic, but a hike to $10-$11 an hour should not be considered out of bounds."

Consider this: Death and Taxes Magazine recently wrote a piece on a collaboration between McDonald's and Visa, aimed to show how an average worker at one of McDonald's locations could live off their (on average) $1,105, take home, monthly salary. Some of the factors calculated in to the sample monthly budget included: rent or mortgage of $600; a $150 car payment; $20 set aside for health insurance, and $100 for car and home insurance. The budget also factored in a second job, where take home equaled $955. When all was said and done, this anonymous worker living in the very reasonably priced Smalltown USA, would have close to $800 spending money left over at the end of each month.

In light of those figures, now consider this: Taking into account the national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the above-mentioned worker would have to work 74 hours a week to take home the proposed, combined $2,060. And noticeably absent from the budget: heat (a big one here in the Northeast), food and gas. And don't get us started on the $20 health insurance ....

While national fast-food giants swear that they operate on a narrow profit margin and are unable to pay higher wages, the corporations that run them are profitable enough to hand out huge salaries to top executives.

"McDonald's CEO James Skinner was paid $8.8 million in 2012," the Berkshire Eagle writes, "and according to Bloomberg Business Week, it would take a McDonald's employee making $8.25 an hour 1.1 million hours to earn that salary, or more than 550 years of the not-quite-full-time work such restaurants usually provide."

Also of note: David Novak, the CEO of Yum Brands (which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC), was paid $11.3 million in 2012; Papa John's CEO John Schnatter, who complained that the Affordable Care Act would cause him to raise pizza prices and/or reduce the hours of employees until the bad publicity he generated caused him to back off, made $3.2 million in 2012.

These workers, generally made up of folks from the lower- and middle-classes, deserve better pay. Federal officials need to crack down on abuses of labor laws that enable corporations to deny them overtime and benefits.

Furthermore, to echo the sentiment from Death and Taxes, the minimum wage in this country is reprehensible. "If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation it would be over $10 an hour. If it had kept up with productivity? It would be $21.72."

There are plenty of people in this country that want to work. They want to work hard. And corporations should be taking advantage of that initiative and drive and be rewarding hard-working Americans with a livable wage.

This rumble from the fast-food workers may cause some ripples that could turn into larger waves. At least there's the potential for that change to happen. Otherwise, Americans will just keep plodding along with the status quo, unable to make ends meets, even while working two full-time jobs.

But at least those executives will continue to be rewarded for their efforts ....


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