by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jillian Kay Melchior explains for National Review Online readers why fast-food workers’ strike for a wage roughly twice the current federal minimum wage makes no sense.
Unions and their allies are marketing their efforts as a grassroots push to secure a living wage, but such ongoing one-day strikes are backed by Big Labor, which has an ulterior motive. With union membership dramatically on the decline nationwide, labor leaders are seeking new members wherever they can. Fast-food workers aren’t unionized, partially because the high turnover rate makes unionization difficult. But Big Labor is getting desperate enough to make a serious effort to gain support among this group.
The strike in Detroit was particularly notable. Late last year, Michigan, long a bastion of organized labor, became a right-to-work state, a development met with much rage from the unions. Michigan’s organized-labor movement is fighting for its life, and its influence in last Wednesday’s strike was obvious. Fast-food workers used well-worn union slogans — “hey, hey, ho, ho, [fill in the blank] has got to go” — and were joined in their picketing by members of Detroit unions.
Earning minimum wage at a restaurant does make for a miserable subsistence. When I was in college, I worked for a while as a hostess at a Chili’s, putting in long hours to pay for my car, insurance, and gas. I lived with my parents and didn’t have to worry about rent or food, but money was still tight. The job was boring, I left reeking of fajitas, and my feet and legs ached from hours of standing.
But as difficult as that work is, and as unrewarding the pay, Detroit’s fast-food workers are playing a risky game. True, they know they won’t get the $15 minimum wage they’re requesting — that’s merely their opening salvo — but even more modest wage hikes would have devastating consequences for Detroit’s restaurant workers. …
… [I]t’s a well-documented fact that when wages increase, employment decreases. The Employment Policies Institute has found that labor already costs the typical fast-food restaurant about a third of its income. If those labor expenses increase further, it will put Detroit’s much-needed fast-food jobs in jeopardy.
A Ball State University study, for example, found that when the federal minimum wage increased by 40 percent between 2007 and 2009, it cost 550,000 part-time jobs. And the Employment Policies Institute has reported that when the minimum wage increases by 10 percent, small businesses cut teen employment by between 4.6 percent and 9 percent. And minority youths suffer the most from such cuts.
Big Labor has marketed the fast-food strikes as a chance to fight for the well-being of Detroit’s poorest residents. And protesters are right: A minimum-wage fast-food job is hardly ideal. But having no job at all is even worse.
This folly could be characterized as a cruel hoax perpetrated on those with lower incomes.