Fast Food Workers Deserve a Living Wage, So Let's Give It to Them

You might be waiting a long time for your fast food this Thursday, as nationwide walkouts are anticipated in eight major cities including New York. Employees from food chains such as KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's are rallying together to demand better wages and the right to form a union.

Several community and national groups are supporting the movement including (but not limited to) Service Employees International Union, Fast Food Forward, United Food & Commercial Workers, and Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago

The movement is calling for a pay increase from the average fast-food worker salary of $8.94 an hour to $15 an hour. Scott DeFife, spokesman for the National Restaurant Association, said in response, “Most fast-food workers earned more than the minimum wage and ... many of the jobs were held by students and part-timers.” However, the Economic Policy Institute has found that this is just not true. Roughly 80% of America’s 1.4 million low-wage workers are at least 20 years old

And there is a very big difference between the minimum wage and a living wage. Sure, some fast food employees do make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, but as countless projects have shown, workers need to make a lot more than that just to be above the poverty level in their respective cities. As Yash Bhutada wrote in his piece for PolicyMic earlier this week citing the Living Wage Project, “A single adult in New York would need to make $12.75 an hour, which is far above the $9 an hour minimum wage that New York State has plans to implement over the next three years. Add a child and the number jumps to $24.69. In Chicago, that adult would need $10.48.”

Fast-food workers are also not working as many hours as they would like. As one caller last month on On Point with Tom Ashbrook explained, “a lot of these quick service restaurants expect people to have absolute open availability while only scheduling about 25 hours a week.” MoneyWatch reported, “Many franchises limit workers to working part-time, which keeps them from qualifying for health care and other benefits.” What benefits might those be? Even something as simple as paid sick days aren't always offered to fast-food employees. A staggering 79% of food industry workers and 90% of restaurant workers reported not having any paid sick days. 

If you think you could live off of a fast food employee’s salary, give Mother Jones’ calculator a try. Just enter in your household size, state, area in state, and it will tell you how much you need to make a year to earn a living wage. A single adult living in New York with no children would need to earn $23,929 annually “to make a secure yet modest living,” at $11.47 an hour. At the current wage rate, that employee would have work 51 hours a week to make a living wage in New York.

It’s not like the fast food companies can’t afford this pay increase. McDonald’s has a net worth of $61.95 billion. In order to become a Burger King franchisee, you need $1.5 million net worth and $500,000 liquid assets available to invest in one restaurant. David C. Novak’s total compensation as chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands, Inc. (this includes KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell) is $76.49 million. He’s made $207.63 million in the last 5 years.

It's true that McDonald’s website offers a tool to help its employees budget their money. But, as the site LowPayIsNotOk.org pointed out, “the tool assumes that employees using it will have to cobble together incomes from at least two jobs to earn a little more than $24,500 per year — what the budget claims it takes to make ends meet.” This corresponds roughly to wages of $12.80 per hour after taxes, which we know is way more than the $8.94 average wage of a McDonald's worker.

LowPayIsNotOk.org features a video on their website urging workers to strike on Thursday and providing a “strike kit” to help them make the most of their efforts. So if you believe fast food workers (and all workers) deserve a living wage, then you can join them outside your local McDonald’s cheering, “Hey hey, ho ho, poverty wage has got to go.”