Magazine article The Christian Century

McWages

Magazine article The Christian Century

McWages

Article excerpt

Fast-food workers think they are woefully underpaid. They're right.

In recent weeks, downtown crowds have seen something unusual at lunchtime: fast-food workers on strike. In city centers across the U.S., thousands have participated in daylong actions. While most labor strikes these days aim only to mitigate ongoing losses, the fast-food workers have a more ambitious demand. They think they deserve $15 an hour, more than twice what some of them currently make.

They're right. If it looks like the strikers are overreaching, that's just because they're so woefully underpaid now.

It's not like fast-food chains--which are highly profitable--can't afford to pay a little better. The problem is that the chains can't afford to raise wages on their own, because that would give a competitive edge to the place down the street. Hence the response by workers of an industry-wide strike.

Fast-food workers, however, aren't unionized; they don't have traditional collective bargaining power. And while this campaign is significantly funded by the Service Employees International Union, there's little chance that McDonald's and Taco Bell will become SEIU shops. Private-sector unions are in steep decline, and fast food's quick turnover rate makes it an especially difficult sector to organize.

But there's another actor that can change the entire industry at once: government. This seems to be the fast-food campaign's real goal--not voluntary action by the employers, and not unionized workplaces, but a higher minimum wage law. …

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