Minimum Logic

We’re told that today is Fast Food Workers’ Strike Day, although you might not have known it if, instead of watching sensationalized media coverage of the event, you visited a fast-food restaurant where it was extraordinarily unlikely anyone was actually on strike.

Each year, the world’s largest labor union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), eggs on or pays a handful of people to stand outside fast food joints protesting while the union contacts the media to drum up coverage. This year’s message was that fast food workers should be paid an absurd $15/hour – more than double the national minimum wage and over 50% more than even the nuttiest progressive states have set their minimum wages.

If you believe a six-figure union boss earnestly cares about the plight of the fry chef, you probably haven’t worked in a union environment before. Two years ago, I found myself in a large collective bargaining unit when a series of budget cuts came down the pike. Rather than all take a slight cut in our pay or benefits so everyone could keep his job (my personal choice), the union took about 10 seconds to instead demand that every contract worker in the organization be laid off so the bargaining unit wouldn’t be affected.

It’s predictably about money in the end – lots of it. Union dues run as high as $400-1000 or more per year, so with millions of fast food workers under the SEIU’s umbrella, that would equate to billions of dollars in guaranteed additional revenue – a whopper return on the initial investment.

“Would you like a side of fries for just $7 more?”

Setting aside what reasonable economists immediately recognize – that there must be an entry level below “living wage” to prevent all still-dependent young adults from being priced out of the job market entirely – if someone is still making minimum wage after more than a few years of employment, that is indicative of a serious underlying problem with that worker. In my brief stint in the fast food industry, I learned this much: anyone who stays put more than 6 months with the same company is guaranteed regular pay raises and a fairly reliable track to lower management. But there lies the rub – most fast food workers flit about from company to company and sacrifice any seniority and experience with every lateral movement they make. Besides getting the equivalent of $15-20 of free food and drink every day – no small perk in itself – it was made quite clear to me that my wage was just a starting point and there would come increased levels of pay and responsibility once I proved I wasn’t a total flake by staying more than a few months (in fact, I didn’t, so there you have it).

At least if Glassdoor reviews are any indication, most fast food workers aren’t buying into the sob story. On the lower end of the satisfaction scale, McDonald’s still manages a respectable employee rating of 3.1 out of 5. Most of the 560 employee reviews echo the sentiments above, stressing the ample room for advancement that comes with just a smidgen of company loyalty. Progressive-vilified Chick-fil-A amazingly scores a 3.8 out of 5, which is 0.2 higher than employees rated working at Microsoft.

There is nothing wrong with organizing together to improve one’s working conditions, but when unions employ the mechanisms of the state to drive their own narrow revenue and agenda, that no longer falls under the tree of free association. If unions really do provide a great value for their members worth their hefty dues payments, they are hard-pressed to explain why the fast food workers on the whole don’t seem very interested, and for that matter why unions tend to lose half their membership as soon as employees are afforded the option of not joining.


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