Four Myths about Fast Food Workers’ Wages

fast food workers strike

by Sahid Fawaz

1.    “Fast food workers earn what they’re worth”

Because they have little bargaining power, fast food workers do not earn wages close to the value that they provide to corporations. The result is the unconscionable exploitation of millions of hardworking fast food employees, which places many of them below the poverty line. It is a failure of modern society when full time workers cannot earn enough to live above the poverty line and be self-sufficient, so as not to have to rely on government assistance.

Not to mention that real wages have declined for decades for workers, despite tremendous gains in productivity. So where has the money been going all this time? To the corporate executives and shareholders rather than to the workers who actually create all this wealth.

2.    “These are not meant to be career jobs – everyone should work their way up”

We are a bit surprised at how often we hear this argument. We say surprised because the argument is so flawed that it astounds us that anyone would make it.

There are two main problems with the argument:

a.    It assumes that jobs should be labeled “career” and “non-career” – and that if a job is “non-career” then the workers should get paid close to nothing. This reasoning is nonsense because what matters is fair compensation for labor, not whether someone will work that job for years.

b.    Because fast food workers earn poverty wages, they often have to work multiple low wage jobs, which means little to no time to work their way out of these jobs or to get the education to do so. So they often must remain in these jobs for a much longer period of time than their opponents would have you believe.

3.    “Companies can’t afford to increase wages”

Fast food restaurants today are run by huge multi-national corporations that earn billions in profits each year. These are some of the largest companies in the world and they pay their executives handsomely – McDonald’s CEO earned $13.8 million last year, with the company taking over $8 billion in profits. But once the companies’ low wage employees ask for compensation that would spare them from poverty, the managements cry broke.

4.    “Workers choose to work at these jobs”

This is a bit of a naïve argument. The reality is that fast food workers often have little choice because of immediate needs and the further depletion of good middle class jobs – it’s not surprising to see well-educated individuals working these jobs because of the state of the economy.  And besides, since virtually all fast food places pay low wages, the workers don’t have a real choice because if they quit one place, the other will pay just as badly.

Know of any other myths propagated by living wage opponents? Let us know in the comments.

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