Think fast food and the sights and sounds that probably come to mind are orders being taken, food prepared and meals served. But in recent months, the usual soundtrack of the American fast food industry has been at least partially replaced by another sound-the roars of protest.
Starting in New York City last November, fast-food workers, backed by the Service Employees International Union, have staged one-day strikes and demonstrations outside of McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell and other national chain outlets in cities across the U.S.
In an industry associated with paying minimum wage -that’s $7.25 an hour under national law and $8 here in California- many fast-food workers are demanding a big boost in pay. They want a minimum wage of $15 an hour, plus better employee benefits and the right to unionize. The wage increase, they say, would allow workers to start living decent lives, which they say is impossible on $8 or $9 an hour, especially for older workers with families.
This past week, this national fast-food workers campaign came to California, with rolling protests in Los Angeles, San Diego and Oakland.
Critics say paying workers more will destroy restaurants which already just barely make it on razor-thin profit margins. They also argue higher wages would lead to workers losing their jobs, as national fast food chains move to automated kitchens and ordering to save money on manpower costs.
There’s a wide gap between the views of labor and business over the issue of what constitutes a fair and humane minimum wage. That gap shows no signs of closing anytime soon.