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EDITORIAL: ‘Fries and a union card with that?’

Doubling the minimum wage makes an unhappy meal

- - Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It's an idea that's a few onion rings short of a happy meal, but it's a whopper of a scheme from organized labor in its latest attempt to iron out the kinks in the union label.

The Service Employees International Union has joined the usual coterie of community agitators to unionize employees of fast-food restaurants. For the past few months, union-backed fast-food workers have been staging what they call "impromptu" (albeit highly orchestrated) wildcat strikes for higher wages, mostly in New York and other big cities.

The same labor chiefs who have been dismissive of the fast-food sector as "burger-flipping jobs" now want to organize what the Labor Union Report blog calls the "french-frying proletariat." Big Labor is looking to the lowly burger bourgeoisie to reverse a decades-long slide in union membership to just 7 million members, or 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce, according to 2012 Labor Department figures.

Under the banner of "Fight for $15," they're seeking double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That's even higher — and more unrealistic — than the $12.50 hourly the D.C. Council is trying to impose on big-box stores in Washington.

Expecting fast-food restaurants to pay $15 an hour for these jobs, most of them entry-level, is divorced from market-based reality, where the law of supply and demand sets wages. This unrealistically high pay is called "living wages" by the left, most of whose worthies have never had to meet a payroll. If "Fight for $15" is "fair," wouldn't "Tussle for $20" be even fairer? But then employers would hire the absolute minimum number of workers necessary to get the job done. As the organizing union knows, this would have an "escalator effect," and $15-an-hour workers would demand still more.

The hardest hit would be the very workers the fast-food push is intended to help, unskilled young people and minorities for whom "burger-flipping" is their entree to the workforce and the first rung on the economic ladder. Behind the grill and counter is where they learn punctuality, following instructions, customer relations and personal finance that will serve them in better jobs throughout their lives. Serving McNuggets, fried chicken or tacos and pouring grande mocha lattes is not typically a long-term career, although those jobs can lead to splendid careers in managing and owning restaurants.

Organizing fast-food workers is a cynical move by the SEIU, which would collect initiation fees from every new worker hired. High turnover in the industry would make it easy and profitable if the SEIU organizers get to have it their way. Initiation fees alone would make it worth their while.

The money to pay these higher wages has to come from somewhere — it always does — and the cost of hiring would necessarily double the price of other things that go into the kitchen. It doesn't take a Hamburglar, a freckle-faced little girl in pigtails or a Kentucky colonel to figure out that doubling the price would take the happy out of a happy meal and put an Evil Grimace on the faces of the fast-food set.

The Washington Times