by Marion Nestle
Aug 1 2013

Front page news: fast food workers need better pay

Fast food workers striking for higher pay are on the front page of the New York Times today.   And about time too.

The salient quotes:

  • Our union’s members think that economic inequality is the No. 1 problem our nation needs to solve. We think it’s important to back low-wage workers…to make the case that the economy is creating jobs that people can’t support their families on.
  • In a lot of low-income neighborhoods, probably the largest employer is the fast-food industry, and we’re not going to reduce the level of poverty in those neighborhoods unless we try to get that industry to provide jobs that pay a living wage.
  • One Taco Bell worker…has about $900 a month to feed and clothe her three children. They receive food stamps.

Food stamps?  If fast food and restaurant workers need—and qualify for—food stamps to feed their families, this means that American taxpayers are subsidizing the profits of these industries.

And if you want a terrific introduction to what this issue is about, take a look at Saru Jayaraman’s  Behind the Kitchen Door (ILR Press/Cornell, 2013).

  • Amanda

    However, doesn’t increasing the wage only perpetuate the fast food industry in the long run? If people get paid better there, they are likely to stick to that job and keep that company going, otherwise they might go out and look for a better paying job if the wage is too low. Staying working in the fast food industry is also likely to occur if the fast food industry minimum wage jumps higher than other minimum wage jobs that support the economy (and which are better in the long run to have than the fast food industry).

  • robert

    @Amanda: The labour-intensive jobs at fast-food restaurants don’t require a lot of special skills / knowledge / training. This has beautifully been portrayed in: Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001) by Eric Schlosser. Essentially firing one burger-flipper and hiring someone else is not an issue, and an easy way to get rid of ‘sources of irritation’. All this has been made possible by extensive ‘division of work’, each step of making a burger is so trivial and mechanized that literally anybody can do it.

  • Charles Curran

    Fast food jobs are a beginning, they are not designed for long term employment. Typically they are filled by the young to be used as a stepping stone to a better job, not limited to food service industry. I worked as a manager for Panera Bread. 95% of are associates were high school children, and turn over was high. Turn over is another reason that starting pay is low. Costs are high to train someone, only to have leave shortly thereafter. Labor is the number one cost for the fast food industry.