Fast Food Workers Call Us To Repentance

The fast food workers who walked off the job today to call for fair wages have very few cards in their hand. They don’t have strong, established unions in place to represent them. They don’t have scarce job skills that make it difficult to replace them.  They don’t occupy strategically critical points in the economy to force powerful interests to accommodate them.

If they had any of those things, they probably wouldn’t be working for poverty wages. But they don’t have those things. For the moment, at least, the only support they have is our conscience.

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Today’s minimum wage, $7.25/hour, is the equivalent of about $15,000 per year – hardly a living wage in any of our nation’s communities. As Americans we’ve become accustomed to getting many of our goods and services at bargain prices courtesy of the working poor. Food, both harvested from farms and served in restaurants; child care; housekeeping and landscaping; and home health care, to name some of the largest sectors, are thick with men and women drawing less than $20,000 per year even when working 40 hours or more each week. The market has made its judgment on these people, and it has placed a low value on them.

But that doesn’t mean WE must. And as Christians, we can’t. As Pope Francis has observed,

Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential. This is the main thing; in the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless.

Justice does not permit us to accept the verdict of the labor market on the working poor. The fast food workers who walked out today are calling us to live out our faith this Labor Day. How will we respond?

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ed gleason
4 years 3 months ago
The low paid workers get their rent, health ins. food stamp subsidies from us tax payers who are thus subsidizing the franchises and fast food corporations.. We lend banks money @ 1% and they charge the customers 5%. FOX News is outraged at the asking for a hike in minimum wage claiming that burgers will be priced out of reach. Cheap Cotton needed slaves as was taught in the South.The workers need to target weak franchises...bankruptcy is the necessary medicine for capitalism. . . .
Andrew Di Liddo
4 years 3 months ago
Americans flock to Walmarts everyday like a church: "they have greeters, just like my church" one Walmart shopper was overheard exhorting gleefully......the majority of these shoppers have blood on their hands from buying sweatshop clothing made in Bangladesh by child labor who were then incinerated in a fire due to unsafe working conditions. As long as Americans demand "low prices every day", this race to the bottom will continue. In the last Presidential campaign the Republican nominee waxed eloquent about a wage slave factory in China surrounded by barb wire. He and others would like to see the same model here in the USA. A 3rd grader can run a business profitably when wages are less than a dollar an hour.
Vince Killoran
4 years 3 months ago
Is the Church serious about this? How about parishes making public commitments to boycott etc? Marches, like in the old support for farm workers?
Andrew Di Liddo
4 years 3 months ago
The majority of parishes in the USA do not have the wherewithal to serve fair trade coffee let alone help fast food workers. Maybe we should start there, with coffee? Once we have that mastered, we can segue to other social justice areas?
Bruce Snowden
4 years 3 months ago
We Christians (Catholics) say we live according to the teachings of Jesus who said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But many of us would rather lock into the teaching of St. Paul addressed to a certain church with a certain problem, "If a man will not work neither shall he eat!" A little "tough love" may be good at times but I would rather do whatever it takes to make the teaching of Jesus applicable, understanding that "charity although good must never be practiced contrary to sound judgment," according to Augustine, meaning that a just living wage must always be in line with Justice, another word for "fair play" absolutely in line with the teaching of Jesus,"do unto others what you would have them do unto you." To put it in dollar value, $15 per hour is not too much to ask, along with additional governmental tag-ons allowing a level of prosperity, aligned to the ideals of Jesus and his teaching according to the wisdom of Pope Francis who said, "Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential. This is the main thing; in the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless." Even if according to Fox News we'll have to pay more for a hamburger!
Tim O'Leary
4 years 3 months ago
This is a complex problem as substantial hikes in the minimum wage or other government fiats often hurt the poor the most. $15,000 a year seems below any American concept of a "living wage" for an individual and even more so for a family. But most people in the world live on far less and would jump at the chance for these wages if they could get them. The global median salary is $1,225 a year (see link below). While service industries cannot move the jobs to the willing workers abroad (greatly improving the lot of the foreign poor), many or most of our manufacturing jobs are going there, greatly reducing global income inequality, but at the expense of increased inequality at home. I suppose as a Church of the whole of humanity, we should be pleased with the reduced global inequality, even while we try to solve our own local inequalities. McDonalds employs 440,000 people and serves 69 million customers a day. The WST said they made $5.5 billion in 2012. That makes it 22 cents profit per customer per day or $34 a day per employee, while they pay the min. wage employee $58 a day (plus benefits, unless they are part-time - a shift incentivized by Obamacare). If they increased the pay to $15 per hour ($120 per day), and all else stayed the same, they would lose about $10 billion a year. Management would of course not leave everything the same. They would a) replace workers with more automation or b) greatly increase food prices c) shut down the less profitable franchises). All would most certainly hurt only the poor. Walmart employs 2.2 million people (1.3 million in the US). I think the poor shop there the most. Higher pay again translates into higher prices. One should also ask why workers take the jobs that pay only minimum wage, since it is less than what people can get on welfare. It could be a temporary or starting job (as I did) to get some job experience. Or they might have a robust work ethic. It would be a shame to have training jobs disappear as they can be a good stepping stone into better paying employment. For those who would like to help workers at fast food outlets, boycotting is more likely to get people fired (if the local franchise loses money). Maybe consider giving a $5-10 tip each time you shop there, as it would go directly to the worker? Or, even better, become an employer and hire people to better paying jobs. I know its risky and you are liable to be attacked for being a greedy employer. But better to light a candle than curse the dark or attack the 1% (which might include you - an after-tax income of only $34,000 for an individual in the world -http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2082385/We-1--You-need-34k-income-global-elite--half-worlds-richest-live-U-S.html).
john andrechak
4 years 3 months ago
Mr. O'Leary, As with manny of the US Right Wing factions, you make your arguments with antidotes; part time shifts are incentivized by Obamacare"? Really? McDonald's staffing policy has been incentivized by the ACA? That come from Rush? According to ABC, a rise to $15 an hour would raise the cost of a dollar "value menu" burger by 33 cents.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 3 months ago
John, send me the link to the math behind the ABC calculation or I'll have to file it under left wing anecdote. "Anecdote" (not antidote) is the talking point the Obama administration is pushing. See here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gracemarieturner/2013/08/27/its-fact-not-anecdote-that-obamacare-is-turning-us-into-a-part-time-nation/ I rarely listen to Rush but maybe the Union bosses are doing it, as several are complaining about the shift from full-time workers to part-time workers. Didn’t you hear about the letter from James P. Hoffa (Teamsters), Joseph Hansen (United Food and Commercial Workers) and Donald “D.” Taylor, president of UNITE-HERE. Joseph Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union that originally supported the law, says the health law will have a “tremendous impact as workers have their hours reduced and their incomes reduced.” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said employers are "restructuring their workforce to give workers 29 and a half hours so they don't have to provide them healthcare." Links below. http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2013/09/04/afl-cio-president-trumka-employers-restructuring-workforce-29-12-hour#ixzz2eBSUSV3L http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/07/15/labor-leaders-obamacare-will-shatter-their-health-benefits-cause-nightmare-scenarios/ http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/319685-labor-frustration-boils-over-with-president-on-obamacare
G Miller
4 years 3 months ago
Australia's minimum wage is $16/hour. If they can do it, why can't we? It would mean a married couple who both worked in fast food would be making $60,000 per year. The end result would be fewer working poor which would mean lower taxes for all of us. They wouldn't need Medicaid and Food Stamps. Sounds like we would do well to insist on a living wage rather than a minimum wage.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 3 months ago
Good question G. Why not raise the US minimum wage to $30 an hour if it doesn't have any negative effect? Wouldn't $60k be a more living wage than $30k? Why would it not be more "Christian" to demand $30, or even more, especially if the person has kids? Or, how about one minimum for single workers and twice that much for married couples, as an incentive to permit parents to stay home with kids? Or, just maybe, the government should stay out of this. The reason is that everyone knows the minimum wage that is set by government fiat can have negative effects for the poor. There is just uncertaintly as to how bad the effects can be. One effect of raising the minimum wage (as discussed above) is that the cost of basic items goes up. For example, statistician Matt Cowgill looked at purchasing power is Australia and the US and, using OECD measures, calculated that $15.50 in Australia was equivalent to $9.50 in the US. http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2013/02/how-15-50-in-australia-can-still-equate-to-9-50-in-the-us/. Another negative effect is on the younger less experienced worker. The libertarian Stossel reported that in June 2012, Australia's unemployment rate for workers age 15 to 19 was 16.5% and that last year, 63% of all jobs lost were jobs for young, unskilled Australians. I haven't seen an analysis of the fast food workforce in Australia and the US, but it would be enlightening to see how the educational status and age make up compared.
Bill Mazzella
4 years 3 months ago
O'Leary and others point to facts that support the argument without considering the moral perspective. The fact that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer is most alarming and new. As Henry Ford said " I give my workers a living wage so they can buy my cars." Enough said.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 3 months ago
Bill. I am considering the moral perspective, which should include considering the unintended harmful effects on the poor of every government intervention into the market. I agree with the Church's often stated principle of having a preferential option for the poor. I just do not hold to the principle of a preferential option for a government solution. But, to be fully Christian in one's perspective, one should not only be concerned for the poor, as if the middle class and even the rich were not deserving of respect and justice. They are our neighbors as well. They should be encouraged to use their resources with a right view to solidarity with their fellow man, particularly those in need, and not hindered from doing so by Government-imposed obstacles. So, any moral Christian perspective should consider both the injustice of laws that take unjustly or arbitrarily from some people and give to others. It is not a crime to have created wealth. And one cannot have better jobs if potential employers cannot see a way to make a business work. As someone who has worked both for a minimum wage in my late teens (while in college), and who now hires (and fires) based on an unforgiving bottom line, I need solutions that work economically, not those that make me feel good while hurting the least educated. A change in the minimum wage will probably have minimal negative effect on the rich or even the middle class. It will just impact the poor, either by putting some more money into their pockets, or raising prices of basic necessities, impacting the number of jobs, increasing automation and shifting to part-time jobs. I am not absolutely against a minimum wage of any specific number but I do not believe the government knows what the right number is. I would prefer the wage be set by the market as it is more efficient and permits greater flexibility for both employee and employer in creating entry level jobs. There are other less harmful ways to assist those on the minimum wage, such as income supplementation, higher tax allowances and sponsored job training, etc. As regards the statement that the "rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer" this is not in fact happening internationally. Formerly very poor Chinese and Indians and many others are benefiting economically at the expense of richer countries at an unprecedented rate, due to free trade and the globalization of the world economy. Many people who decry "income inequality" do not really want reduced income inequality internationally.

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