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February 12 2018

The Downside of Another Fast-food Worker Protest for $15 Minimum Wages

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Fast-food workers are set to skip out on work today at lunchtime to protest for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

While they demand bigger paychecks, they may eventually just get a pay cut or a pink slip. Minimum wage hikes help a few but trigger painful consequences for many other low-wage workers that will continue into the future.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Strike in which 700 black garbage men protested their low wages and dangerous working conditions. To commemorate it, fast-food workers are set to walk out of their jobs and team up with other labor groups to protest for a $15 minimum wage in Detroit and other cities nationwide. One Memphis worker explains:

“Fast-food cooks and cashiers like me are fighting for higher pay and union rights, the same things striking sanitation workers fought for 50 years ago,” said Ashley Cathey, 29, a fast-food worker in Memphis. “We’re not striking and marching just to commemorate what they did — we’re carrying their fight forward."

Wages have been stagnant for too long. As the January jobs report indicates though, they are finally beginning to rise. That is due to a strong economy creating so many jobs that employers must increase wages and salaries to retain or attract good workers. The skills workers have are more valuable.

Demanding a minimum wage increase is different. When employers are forced to raise the lowest wages because of a government directive, they will look to cut costs in other ways. Minimum wage workers are no more skilled than before, but they are now more costly to keep.

As a University of Washington study found, as a result of Seattle’s push for $15 minimum wage workers ended up receiving $125 less per month in their paychecks from fewer hours or job losses. Another study projects that California will shed 123,000 jobs in food services and hospitality when it raises it’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

We have anecdotal evidence as well. Red Robin eliminated the entire busboy position at all 570 their locations nationwide.

Raising the minimum wage does help a few workers, but hurts many others who end up with fewer shifts, lose their jobs, or who can’t find jobs for their skill level.

Fast-food companies are also investing in new technology that eliminates the need for various minimum-wage or low-skilled jobs.

The federal government, cities, and states can give low-skilled workers financial relief by allowing them to keep more of what their earn - and that’s already happening with tax cuts. Instituting policies that keep the economy growing and generating jobs means workers have abundant opportunities if they lose their job or desire better-paying positions. However, the best long-term investment is in helping workers boost their skill level and obtain skills for the jobs of the future.

By marching for $15 an hour, protestors may feel like they're doing something, but it won’t mean very much when work opportunities become scarce or their jobs become obsolete. 

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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