Fast food workers demonstrate in New York City By Amy Spekhardt In the United States this past Monday was Labor Day, the unofficial end to the summer season. Many Americans celebrate Labor Day by relaxing at a barbecue, anticipating the start of a new …

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Fast food workers demonstrate in New York City

By Amy Spekhardt

In the United States this past Monday was Labor Day, the unofficial end to the summer season. Many Americans celebrate Labor Day by relaxing at a barbecue, anticipating the start of a new school year and enjoying the last sweet rays of the summer sun. Yet many Americans do not reflect on the original purpose of Labor Day. It was created in 1894 by an act of Congress to acknowledge the efforts American workers have made in the betterment of the nation. The lack of awareness and recognition for workers on this holiday has contributed to the oversight of working conditions that many are facing in this harsh economic recession.

Unlike society’s current views on Labor Day, many fast food workers in New York City, Chicago and Detroit brought awareness to important labor issues that have been neglected in American society. These protests and marches illustrated to the American public and the State and Federal governments the important issue of a “Living Wage.”

Currently the federal minimum wage is miniscule $7.25. If an individual works a 40 hour week for a year they make a total of $15,000 a year. This is currently less than half of the average salary in the United States. There are Americans who believe that the minimum wage should not be increased because mainly teenagers and students are receiving this wage. However there are parents and children living on this income and are subsequently living under the national property line.

President Obama emphasized in his State of the Union Address in February 2013 the need to raise the federal minimum wage to $9. While emphasis is being placed on this vital issue, the proposed wage increase is still not a living wage. The proposed $9 is considerably less than the proposed $15 an hour that many workers are seeking. Numerous studies have shown that the $1.75 raise would not be enough of an increase to establish a living wage. Neither the living wage nor the proposed $1.75 increase has had much support from current politicians, corporations or the American public.

The concern many government officials have about a living wage center around the effect the increase would have on the national economy. Speaker of the House John Boehner stated that “when you raise the price of employment, you get less of it.” This statement illuminates the worst fear of many Americans, a country with less jobs and a greater strain on the national budget. Yet there have been results that combat this fear.

There has been support for increasing the federal minimum wage from credible economic and labor advocates. When there has been an increase to a state’s minimum wage, employment has increased. According to current White House Council of Economic Advisors David Card and Allan Kruger, when the state of New Jersey increased its minimum wage by 18% there was an increase in employment in the fast food industry. Additionally Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, stated in support of an increased federal minimum wage that “It is impossible for the economy to run on all four cylinders unless consumers have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going.” With the support from highly experienced and influential individuals, both the American public and government need to initiate a course of action that aids the plight of many Americans throughout the United States.

Businesses are also vocalizing their uneasiness and unwillingness for a mandatory increase in minimum wage or a living wage. Many fast food restaurants state that an increase in the minimum wage will cripple their profits and force them to cut their employment rates. This is clearly illustrated in the operations of a McDonald’s. McDonald’s locations are owned by franchisees that are currently only seeing 4 to 6 cents return for every dollar spent and only seeing a profit margin of 1% after paying both their royalty fees and employees’ wages. They are extremely fearful of having to raise wages since many would not be able to afford both their operation cost and their employees’ wages.

Nonetheless increasing the price of their food would not necessarily force franchisees to halt their operations. Huffington Post reported that in increasing the price of a Big Mac by 64 cents could double their employees’ wages and the operation would still retain a profit. Additionally corporate profit margins have increased substantially from 5% in 2008 to 10.98% in 2012 and McDonald’s alone had a profit of 5.5 billion dollars. The great disproportion of wealth between the parent companies and franchisees are being lessened by low wages for employees.

The American fast food worker represents the harsh reality that many workers are facing, a fight for a living wage and a viable livelihood. The United States has placed the ideologies of prosperity and equality into the rights that every American citizen posses. Yet corporations have been able to sacrifice their employees in order to maintain a high yearly profit and enormous bonus checks to higher management. Minimum wage jobs are no longer just for teenagers, they are now sustaining families. These workers need to be supported in their fight for a living wage because all Americans deserve an opportunity to prosper from their contribution to society and the American economy.

Photo by The Eyes of New York

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