Our Opinion: You want fries with your indentured servitude?

On Aug. 29, fast-food workers in more than 60 cities across the country went on strike, demanding an increase in pay to $15 an hour.

While industry analysts and lobbyists insist raising wages to $15 an hour would force fast-food joints to pass the costs on to customers, lay off workers, or even, yes, believe it or not, roboticize their food preparation, other independent analysts maintain the corporations that franchise the fast-fast restaurants on every corner in America are doing quite well and could afford to raise wages. According to Sageworks, a financial-data analytics firm, while revenues and profits are up in the past few years, they're not being shared with the employees.

"And this isn't just a problem with the fast-food industry," wrote Time Magazine's Christopher Matthews. "This comes at a time when wages have been almost completely stagnant. And corporate profit margins across the board have soared in recent years, while the median worker's pay has stayed flat."

As Al Lewis, writing for MarketWatch, noted in July, McDonald's CEO Don Thompson raked in $13.8 million in compensation in 2012.

In his column, Lewis was making fun of a sample budget McDonald's provided to its employees, which was an effort the corporation was making to advise them how best to live on their low wages. Believe it or not, the "McBudget" allotted only $20 a month for health insurance and neglected to include food expenses.

"Good thing the McBudget guide offers astonishing financial insights, such as 'expenses are what you spend.' It also offers handy cost-cutting tips like 'Borrow books and movies from the library,' and 'Consider walking or riding a bike.'" Lewis suggested Thompson trade in his corporate jet for a bicycle, but if not ready to do that, try trading his multi-million-dollar salary for a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, in which a 40-hour work week totals up to $15,000 a year.

And this isn't just about the people who work at these establishments, Fran Quigley, a professor at Indiana University, told USA Today.

"When they work hard every day for all day long and they don't get paid enough wages to put food on the table and to support their families, then we as a community suffer."

Quigley said because fast-food workers and other retail employees get paid so poorly, taxpayers subsidize the corporations that employ them because many of them qualify for food stamps and other support services. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 25 percent of people earning less than $15 an hour receive some sort of governmental assistance.

While flipping burgers isn't a career choice made by many, the reality is it's not just teens and retirees that are working behind the counter; it's often people who have lost jobs in the past few years who have been forced to take whatever job they could find in order to make ends meet.

"With roughly 80 percent of the industry's workforce now older than 20, they're more likely to be in need of steady employment and less likely to be seeking jobs for temporary periods of time," noted the Washington Post's Jenna McGregor.

If you want more proof of this, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, turnover at fast-food restaurants has gone from 84 percent in 2001 to 61 percent in 2012.

Because there is still such high turnover, industry analysts and union representatives don't expect to see the hundreds of thousands of fast-food workers lining up to join unions any time soon. But by taking to the streets in symbolic strikes, the workers are attempting to influence legislation on a federal level. While most of them don't expect to get the $15 an hour they are asking for, they are urging Congress to do something, anything, to raise the federal minimum wage even a dollar or two.

While conservative pundits and legislators insist raising the minimum wage would hurt the economy, numerous studies have concluded it's just not true. But many of those same conservatives have always subscribed to the "Big Lie" supposition: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually believe it."

And another fact for you: After adjusting for inflation, the federal minimum wage has actually dropped 20 percent since 1967. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, if the minimum wage had kept up with increases in worker productivity, it would be $21.72 an hour.

While we at the Reformer would like to see the federal minimum wage increased by at least a dollar or two, it's not going to happen with the Congress we have now. Many legislators are too concerned with protecting their own base and funding their next campaign to do what's actually right by their constituents.

On the day after Labor Day, we can say that's not only shameful, it's despicable.


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