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The Battle for a Living Wage

While conservatives accuse hard working people of being lazy takers who need a better job, McDonald’s and Wal-mart are “Welfare Queens” who push their own employees onto social services so the tax payers can pick up the slack simply so they don’t have to, even though they can afford it.

130404123220-fast-food-protest-620xaI began writing this last summer, on the 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the historic march on Washington for civil rights and equality among employment. Just one day later, fast food workers put down their spatulas, headsets and Asian made uniforms to protest the miserable wages they have been enduring. They are fighting for a $15 an hour wage, one in which nobody realistically believes they will get and one in which I believe may be a bit optimistic but a firm negotiating position as those idiots who claim to love businesses so much seem to forget. This sparked many debates that followed, one in which I observed a struggle between middle-class people who are sympathetic to those out risking their jobs on the picket-lines, and middle-class people who are sympathetic to the wealthy investors, CEOs and franchise owners. 


The Real “Takers”

Since you know which side I am on, the opposing, pro-business argument goes like this: Big Fast-Food is a business and if you raise wages too much it can’t make money. There are many variations of this with people trying to sound like they understand business, even pulling out numbers from a non-existent source in an effort to prove that business is the good guy and the evil workers should be more grateful that they are given a job in the first place. How dare they ask for a raise? Minimum wage is supposed to be a lousy job. They are unskilled and are paid for the lack of skill? If you owned a franchise, you would have to face the day to day struggles to make ends meet, and would see that these poor franchisees can’t afford it, etc. What this ignores completely, is that the minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation, meaning that McDonald’s did just fine in the ’70s and ’80s paying a wage that is worth a hell of a lot more than the wage they pay today is worth. So to underscore the point, McDonald s has been profiting from cheaper labor for decades.

Has this resulted in a higher quality product? Uhm, no. If anything, fast-food quality has gone down dramatically at McDonald’s since the 80s. Has this resulted in cheaper prices? This is debatable given the amount of “food” you are given at a McDonald’s , yet Big Mac Costs are rising faster than the CPI cost of wheat and beef, meaning, no. Has this resulted in a greater give-back to the local communities? McDonald’s does have its obligatory charitable cause, a good cause too that convinced many other corporations they need to do the same, yet the bottom line is that many of these franchises are paying such high fees to the McDonald’s corporation that in reality, money is being taken out of the community. In fact, the franchises are in revolt with the McDonald’s Corporation, over the ridiculous fees they are paying in rent, products, remodeling, training and software. There is an effort by corporate to shift operating costs to the franchisees so the Wall Street bottom line looks better. That’s where all the money is going. Wall Street! To investors who are mostly already rich, investing in a business that sold cheap food during a recession. As sales have declined due to the increased economy, Wall Street suddenly isn’t too happy with the Golden Arches.

min-wage (3)It’s just business Ronald!

The whole model is sold as this democratic system yet it seems that a franchise is far from autonomous. It even starts to seem like a scam. You put up the money to get in to business, we own the property, we will sell you the products, we will set your prices, wages, etc. and make most of the profits. There are mob deals that seem more fair than this!

Don’t get me started on Ronald McDonald’s impact on childhood obesity, adult obesity, Type II Diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. Since many of their workers don’t get health insurance and rely on the free food they can eat during their shifts to cut out all those pesky food costs, these businesses are really hurting the economy by creating societal burdens that are covered under the County Hospital system which Republicans seem to love more than Obamacare. In other words. they cut corners and the tax payer picks up the bill, just like Walmart, which features many a McDonald’s restaurant inside its bottom-feeding superstores.

Despite both McDonald’s and Walmarts commitment to make the American bottom bigger, in more ways than one, it seems to have been dependent on a recession and the improving economy has caused a serious decline in both of the corporation’s sales. As the Washington Post noted, the low wage strategy doesn’t seem to be working out. Which makes sense, since paying low wages means your own employees can’t afford the crap you sell.

 

Enabling Abuse

There is almost a disdain for the labor that works in these companies from the very people that profit the most from their hard work. Why can’t these guys treat their employees, many of which give chunks of their lives up to deal with ungrateful people who don’t want to wait more than 30 seconds for their heart exploding cheeseburgers and blood pressure raising french fries. They are often not very young, many are adults who can’t find a better job. The median age of a fast-food worker today is 29.  The tale of the teenager working over the summer is as fictional as the legendary paperboy, that hasn’t existed since the 1970s, when desperate adults began delivering newspapers at 4am from a large flat bed truck with several workers of potentially questionable citizenship from the back.

income-changeFast food and corporate retail have become fall back positions for many Americans who have lost their jobs or can’t find decent employment, and this hits real close to home for me in many ways. You are poorly paid, poorly treated by customer and management alike and at the end of the day, it simply isn’t enough to live on. You don’t take these jobs because you want to, though that doesn’t mean that people working their are not qualified to do something better, many do and even have degrees. They work there because they have to.

Oh but the good people at McDonald’s feel their employee’s pain. Since they are the ones who make them so much money, they set up a help line, McResources, to guide them toward government assistance, so the fellow tax payers can help them get by, which basically subsidizes McDonald’s profits at our expense and still provides a meager existence to hard working people.

Then of course there is health care, which is basically nothing. Even in the rare instances that it is offered, only full-time workers can get it and is heavily reliant on so-called, Mini-Med plans, where are heavily stripped down health care plans that don’t cover a whole lot. These plans don’t meet the fairly lenient standards set forward in Obamacare because they don’t really cover anything, so guess what? McDonald’s is threatening to ditch the whole plan all together!

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Ok, so now McDonald’s has thrown you over the side, they pay you nothing, and expects you to be grateful for being given the chance to take it so hard where the sun, what could possibly make it even more degrading? What could possibly demonstrate that this business that rakes in billions in profit and pays it’s CEO $13.8 million a year could be any more out of touch with your reality? Yes, of course. last year’s, now defunct, Practical Money Skills Budget JournalThe implications of the sample budget are staggering. McDonald’s employees were advised to live without heating, assumed their rent was only $600 and take a second job. Funnier still, getting a second job is difficult at these places because you have no set schedule. However little you are paid, it’s your personal responsibility for being so poor. The employer shares zero responsibility in paying employees a decent wage for hard-earned work.

How out of touch these clowns are!

Worse still is that we are enabling McDonalds and the Fast Food industry to be abusive to their employees and it is costing us to the tune of $7 Billion a year in public assistance!

 

BurgerBoy 2000

You can’t ship retail and McDonald’s jobs over seas. As much can be done without US labor is already being done, yet you still need people to make the burgers and take your order, right? Well for now, yes. Although the powers that be are hard at work looking for a solution, to skim 5 pennies off the cost of a Big Mac so they can raise it 5 pennies on you and make a whopping dime!

Meet the BurgerBoy 2000 by Momentum Machines. Actually I have no idea what it’s called, though if you remember Chris Elliott’s Get a Life Series from the ancient period known as the early 90s, you will remember his struggles as a 30 year old paperboy, dealing with technological replacement at the hands of the Paperboy 2000, an automated M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle with a newspaper cannon. Elliott is spared when it reveals that the Paperboy 2000 goes mad and begins to assault people with newspapers. Is the world ready for a burger machine that can flip as many as 360 burgers an hour that it claims will drive costs down.

tech_lemnos47__01__630x420Actually, the whole thing is quite humorous. The cost looks to be somewhere in the $100-135K range (this is based on their claims that it will pay for itself in a year’s time and that is the cost of labor for an entire quick service [which is remarkably low btw]), it still needs onsite technicians (they advertise on their site that they are willing to train line cooks to operate it) and when it breaks, and it will break, requires the use of a Mechatronics Engineer. Having witnessed CAD/CAM Mills on the fritz, their repair can cost upwards of $7000  and maintenance can cost up to $400 an hour (and those machines are in the $20,000 range). They promise that it will drive the cost down on a burger, even though labor is not the most expensive part of a franchise (notice that franchisees had little to say about labor in their aforementioned revolt and this occurred during the labor debate) and the so called savings they claim will “ALLOW A RESTAURANT TO SPEND APPROXIMATELY TWICE AS MUCH ON HIGH QUALITY INGREDIENTS AND THE GOURMET COOKING TECHNIQUES MAKE THE INGREDIENTS TASTE THAT MUCH BETTER.”

Will a greedy corporation pass the savings on to you? Likely story! Though this BurgerBoy 2000 doesn’t seem ready for prime-time, the company is promising to open their own restaurant chain to prove it to the world. This may prove to be a fascinating revelation of our time or another promise of technology that the world doesn’t want and didn’t ask for, like the 1980s AT&T Video Phone.

 

Yes it CAN Be Done!

iS7HKx4rk6eMMeanwhile In and Out pays its employees a $10.50 wage, higher than the propose minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. In and Out also offers a superior product, does not cost significantly more and has employee picnics and events that make working there not seem as awful as it could be.

So I ask you, is there any reason to eat at McDonald’s? The food is not healthy and the Oatmeal is even bad for you, containing chemicals you would never keep in your kitchen, and oats are something that keep for long periods of time, so it’s more an issue of over-engineering.  The quality is bad, it’s meant to be addictive with it’s lab-tested combination of melted cheese, sugary buns and greasy beef. Worse, they target our kids with toys and movie tie-ins to get them hooked so they keep coming back. It’s pretty slimy and at this point, I have more respect for the tobacco companies. Considering that more and more people these days are dying form problems related to obesity than smoking, and the tobacco companies have no blatant history of neglecting their own employees (that we know of), I’d say that is a fair opinion.

Obama’s recently proposed minimum wage increase is much too small. From a Progressive like me that idea is no surprise, yet this opinion came from BUSINESS INSIDER!   So even members of the business community are starting to see that paying people a decent wage means they have more money to spend, which collectively helps all business, not just the narrow-minded focus of fast-food and big-box.

0729-Business-Strike_full_600Public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of raising the minimum wage. This has helped McDonald’s employees be successful at unionizing and it has drawn increasing amounts of public attention to their cause. We all deserve an honest pay for honest work. With American productivity at its highest levels in decades, it seems the honest work is there but the honest pay seems to have eluded us.

It’s time for change! Let’s Let ’em know!

In order for a government OF the People to work FOR the People, it must be a government BY the people!

About Joshua Johnson

For 8 years, Soapblox.com has functioned as the political blog for up and coming writer, Joshua Johnson. While he writes many different styles of writing ranging from science fiction to social commentary, his true love lies in politics and history. With a degree in History from CSUN, his love of history shines through in his perspective. Josh’s articles are focused heavily on telling the truth and cutting through the subjective and relative nature that is prevailing these days. Hailing from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, Josh has had a decidedly middle-class upbringing, which has translated into a deeply rooted love of the Progressive movement of the early 20th Century. A self-described “progressive” Josh’s political views are quite mixed though lean left of center.