Fast-food workers push for $15 an hour

Strikes and walkouts suggest they're serious, but the cost of living in some cities suggests they're asking for too little.

By Jason Notte Jul 30, 2013 7:18AM
A McDonald's employee prepares an order at a McDonald's restaurant on April 19, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. (© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)Fast-food workers are paying a high price for America's low-cost insta-meals, and they're increasingly tired of footing the bill.

Salon reports this week that fast-food workers in New York City staged a walkout, while workers in Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Flint, Mich., went on strike. Backed by the Service Employees International Union and local advocacy groups, workers in each city had the same demands: a raise to $15 per hour and the chance to form a union without intimidation by management.

Does $15 seem steep? Maybe to billionaire Charles Koch, who notes that $34,000 a year puts American workers among the top 1% of earners in the world. But that's not even enough to eke out a living in the cheapest corners of America.

The fast-food labor fight began last November with a strike by about 200 employees of various chains in New York City. Over the past four months, that walkout has been followed by similar work stoppages in five other cities, plus a second New York City strike roughly twice as large.

The fast-food industry, however, isn't budging. It has been extremely reluctant to give its full-time workers the benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act, never mind a more than 100% raise. Domino's (DPZ) vice president Tim McIntyre told Salon that "opportunity exists for everyone in our system who's willing to work hard and focus on rising to the next level."

Despite similar assertions from McDonald's (MCD) chief executive Don Thompson, the evidence says otherwise. According to a new study by the National Employment Law Project, nearly 90% of all fast-food jobs belong to cooks, cashiers, delivery workers and other nonmanagerial workers. By comparison, 31% of jobs in other U.S. industries are above entry level.

As NELP pointed out to The Huffington Post, front-line fast-food jobs pay a median hourly wage of $8.94 and workers stay in those positions for years at a time with scant opportunity for advancement. Only 2% of fast-food industry jobs are held by the executives Thompson used as examples.

It's a similar case nationally, with 4.3 million people holding the country's most popular job, the $25,000-a-year position of retail salesperson. While cashiers come in second with 3.3 million U.S. jobs, they include fast-food workers fueling an economy in which roughly 65% of the 5.7 million jobs added since the recession have been low-wage.

So why pay those workers $15 an hour? Because even that's getting off cheaply, depending on the city. In Montgomery County, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C., where the cost of living is highest, a worker needs a minimum wage of $23.65 to achieve economic stability. When Washington, D.C., suggested that Wal-Mart (WMT) should pay its lowest-tier employees little more than half that -- $12.50 an hour -- the chain threatened to pull six planned stores from the city.

Chances are we haven't seen the last walkout by fast-food workers.

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Jul 30, 2013 8:46AM

The idea that low skill requirement jobs should pay at some arbitrary level that constitutes a so called LIVING WAGE is absurd. I worked those jobs through high school and college but continued to go to school, read, develop marketable knowledge and skills to propel me out of that realm of low wages. The low wages were a motivator for me to rise up the ladder.

The uneducated, low skilled, intellectually lazy that remain in those jobs over a long period of time make their own situation in life so thus warrant their status. The whole debate is nothing more than unions, politicians, and social engineering liberals trying to create another phony strata of disadvantaged impoverished people requiring government rescue, essentially a new vote buying scheme.

The recent Wal Mart debacle in Washington D C where the city government tried to extort Wal Mart into paying artificially high wages is a classic example of politics over public good. That is ufortunate for an area in desperate need of jobs and affordable merchandise. My empathy in minimal since those people elect and reelect those clowns. If you havent seen some of these public officials interviewed, you are lucky. It is frightening to see their level of ignorance and think they could be elected to ANY office. Washington is like Detroit and too many other cities, it doesnt have a city government, it has a posse.

As JFK said, people get no better government than they deserve. 

Jul 30, 2013 8:54AM

these jobs were never intended to be life long career jobs.  they are classic kid summer jobs.  classic college kid jobs.  classic "mom" jobs while kids are in school between 10 and 2. 


anyone who thinks a burger flipping job deserves a "liveable wage" simply forgot to pay attention in school in order to get something truly liveable. 


face it.  if you're depending on a burger job to live on, then you simply screwed up in the game of life.  the issue falls on YOU and not your employer

Jul 30, 2013 9:29AM

If you demand more money, your employee demands more knowledge, work, and skill. It's really simple.

If your only skill is asking " do you want fries with that?" then minimum wage is exactly what you deserve.

Jul 30, 2013 9:36AM
Ha, Ha, Get real.

Be glad to have a  job.  $15/hr to serve up fries?  No wonder Obama got elected, some people have no clue.
Jul 30, 2013 9:16AM
Imagine if this went into effect.  You'd have all kinds of people quitting halfway decent, $12 hour jobs to go work a drive-thru somewhere.  You'll see servers from Outback or Red Lobster, who kept getting crappy shifts, quit to go work behind the counter at Jack In The Box.  Super markets and stores like Wal-Mart would end up with a shortage of people - all their cashiers would leave to go make tacos for twice the money.

If a franchise owner has to pay everyone at least $15/hour, how much is it going to cost to get a burger?  Will the $1 value menu become the $3 value menu?  Will a Happy Meal now cost $9?

Imagine you started out at McDonalds as a fry cook for minimum wage.  You worked your way up over a couple of years to become a supervisor or assistant manager, and now you make $14/hour.  All of a sudden, this new wage goes into effect and you're making the same thing as the burger flipper who started yesterday.

If anything, we should get rid of the minimum wage altogether.  I should have the right to trade my time or labor for whatever compensation I deem appropriate.  If someone is willing to work for $5/hour, why shouldn't they be allowed to?  Imagine being denied the right to work because the government decides that you don't place a high enough value on your own time or labor.

Jul 30, 2013 9:36AM
I don't see anyone making these people work there.   Why should the  employer be forced to pay anything other than minimum wage?  Supply and demand.  If UNIONS get involved it will raise the prices for all of us and damage entire industries------just like Unions have done to government.
Jul 30, 2013 9:25AM

All fast food shops should lock the doors for two weeks, when these greedy fools miss a whole check that might teach them a lesson.


We need more managers like Henry Frick.

Jul 30, 2013 9:36AM

If I had a business and was forced to pay someone $15 per hour to make French Fries and flip hamburgers, I would terminate half my employees and keep those who had some ever "marginal skills". Another example of Unions loosing people their jobs. Most employees at fast food restaurants are students or are people that need very "flexible schedules". While others are working at Fast Food Restaurants because that's the only employment they are able to do based on their abilities and education (or lack there of). I saw a news program that interviewed some of the strikers in New York and was not surprised that they were working in fast food. Some couldn't speak a complete understandable sentence without some sort of sign language (they could see and head) while others had questionable hygiene issues and some acted as though they were in another world and had no idea and others where English was a 2nd or 3rd language. If you want a decent job at least "successfully" complete High School and speak English (without any hand signals).  

Jul 30, 2013 9:33AM
these  jobs  pay  what  they  pay  for   areason...  it  is   called  low  skilled  employment  for   a  reason...  i  remeber   back  in  the  1970s- and  1980s  the  people   that  worked  in  fast  food  jobs  were   actually   fast...  that  is  not  the  case   today
Jul 30, 2013 9:45AM

Libs, just try to follow this... 1)  Raise the wages to $15,  2) Raise the cost of a Big Mac to Value Meal to $10.00 to cover the cost  3) Lose 1/2 - 3/4 of your daily customers because of the cost  of food 4) Fire 1/2 of the work force to compensate for lost revenue.  5) Now you have 1/2 of the people that had jobs making 8-10 an hour not working at all, and the whole country driving farther looking for an open McDonalds, as many are closed down, using more green house gas spending 10 bucks for a grease bomb.  In other words - THINK beyond the first emotional response - SEE REALITY.

Jul 30, 2013 9:49AM
I wonder how long until the fast food chains get fed up and just hire other workers (if they have not already), I know there are plenty of people that will work for minimum wage.  Stop thinking that your ability to flip a burger or cut a tomato (never mind they come pre-sliced) entitles you to 31k per year. . .These jobs were suppose to be a starting point, not an ending point.
Jul 30, 2013 9:53AM

This is what the free market is all about.  If you think you're worth more than you're paid you have the right to quit and prove it, other wise you're worth exactly what you're paid.

Jul 30, 2013 9:55AM
Seriously!? $15/hour to work fast food!? If your career goal in life is to work fast food, you deserve minimum wage! So then after you jump to sales associate at a big box store, you're going to demand $20, $25, $30/hour? Good luck! Quit believing all that load of mush the liberal "teachers" filled your heads with in school and get a dose of reality! Otherwise, you're going to spend your whole worthless life expecting everything to be handed to you on a silver platter. You think if you raise the cost of minimum (transition) wage to $15 that prices are going to stay where they are? No, prices will rise relative to wages. You can run all the fast food places out of business for all I care. Then what will you do? Those places are probably the upper limit of your job skills and then you'll really be screwed. GOOD LUCK!
Jul 30, 2013 9:38AM
Look what low skills, (public) union employees, and high wages did for Detroit. WOW, here we go again.
Jul 30, 2013 9:38AM
Funny how people are overlooking the fact that the income gap has only grown since Obama took office.
Jul 30, 2013 9:31AM
If they don't like their jobs, quit and find something else and leave your openings for someone who needs a job and will work.  I am retired and over 70 and work part time to supplement my SS for about $8.00 an hour and happy to get it.  I spent over 40 Years in a profession that I can't get hired in because I have tooo much experience and I just wanted part time work, did not want management again but the managers were and are scared they would lose their job if I were hired.
Jul 30, 2013 9:34AM
What a insult to those college Graduates that went to school for 4 years just to start out at 15$ per hour. Freaking Liberals do what- we want it and we DEMAND it now. Libs are only worth minimum wage if that.
Jul 30, 2013 9:47AM

but still, why the hell is the cost of living so high that you need to make 23 dollars an hour just to be stable. Something is seriously wrong in my opinion.

Jul 30, 2013 9:47AM
Sure, and when the food gets beyond what people will pay the business will have to cut workers or go out of business.  This is why ShowBama and Nasty Nancy are in office.  Idiots that vote without a brain.  More BS from the 47%.
Jul 30, 2013 9:58AM
Those darn greedy business owners.  First they go out and get an education.  Then they risk their own capital putting it all on the line, work 80 hrs/wk and they think they should reap the benefits?  What about the poor unskilled worker who didn't waste their time getting educated or trained, has hygienic issues presenting themselves as they want, only wants to work at certain times, prefers to not excel?  How can those business owners sleep at night?
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