Unions are using striking fast food workers

Thursday saw fast food workers across in 130 cities the country walk off the job in order to protest for higher wages. The protesters were bemoaning the low pay earned in fast food jobs and are demanding an economically unfeasible wage of $15 per hour. To work in fast food.

Now of course any worker would love to see a raise in pay. Of course, the economics of this don't actually pan on for most of the workers. Lots of fast food workers are teenage workers who are disproportionately impacted by minimum wage hikes and already facing ridiculously high rates of unemployment. The cost of products sold by the fast-food restaurants would be passed on not to companies, but to consumers, thus raising the prices on lower-wage workers who are are already trying to make ends meet.


Only one group actually comes out ahead if the strikers are given a higher wage and allowed to organize: unions.

It is a known fact that unions have been suffering from declining membership for years. Unions are no longer necessary in order to get a decent wage and fair living conditions, and while unions were important in order to get things like worker safety and the 40-hour work week, they outlived their usefulness in many areas long ago. Today, the most important function unions play in is a political one, serving as a source of activists, funds and votes for the Democratic Party.


 Needless to say, that's why the fast food strike is such a big deal to them and why they are taking such an active role in organizing it. As Jarrod Shanahan observed on

The truth is Fast Food Forward is no humble rank and file operation. It is a well-funded, well-oiled, and professionally staffed collaboration of the Service Employees International Union 32BJ (SEIU 32BJ), and New York Communities for Change (NYCC, formerly ACORN), two big time organizations inextricably intertwined with the Democratic Party. Beyond the utopian $15 rhetoric, this alliance is also seeking to build a union for fast food workers under the umbrella of the SEIU, and to provide a vehicle for various Democratic politicians to get out the vote, which I witnessed in no short order at Monday's rally.

The unions aren't really that interested in the striking workers. They're interested in the increase of union membership and union dues that organized fast food workers can provide to them. Because if there is a universal $15 an hour wage for fast food employees, two things are going to happen.

The first thing that happens is that the number of fast food employees will be cut. If you're doubling the cost of labor for a fast food restaurant, they aren't just going to eat that cost without and adjustment. They'll have two choices; either to significantly increase the cost of food or cut the number of employees they have on payroll. Almost certainly, restaurants will choose the later.

Secondly, after cutting the number of jobs on the front end, they will permanently cut them on the back end. It is cheaper in the long-term to come up with automation systems that replace human labor. It has been done in virtually every other industry (just look at the unionized auto industry to see how many humans have been replaced with robots) and it can be done in the fast food industry. Don't believe me? Applebee's is already adding 10,000 tablets to their restaurants next year that will allow customers to order and pay without human intervention.

Fast food workers have been an important part of the American landscape for 50-some years. However, they are not irreplaceable and should not receive inflated wages for the skill-set that they possess. It's sad that so many workers in the field are allowing themselves to be used as political pawns by union leaders who have no interest at all in their future well-being.

--Brian Griffiths

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