- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Fast-food workers need to wake up and smell the greasy truth.

For months, they have been up in arms about their “low wages,” and it’s easy to feel their pain.

The average front-line fast-food employees — cashiers, cooks and deliverers — are among the lowest-paying occupations in the U.S. economy with an average wage of $8.94 an hour, according to the National Employment Law Project. Trying to feed a family on such wages likely leaves parents asking, “And what’s a food pyramid?”

But raising Cain at job sites, a favored form of protest for such workers, isn’t a good employment strategy.

Workers in seven cities walked off their jobs at Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and other fast-food chains Monday, and similar strikes and demonstrations have been held since last fall, with more promised.

Their protest signs often play off of corporate marketing themes, such as “Supersize my pay” and “I’m loving a living wage.”

Their chief mantra promotes a push for a so-called living wage of $15 per hour — a very hefty raise over the current $8.94 average.

Nobody seems to be questioning whether these workers deserve such a raise, but plenty of folks are focusing on the revenues that fast-food chains bring in or that many of these workers are earning a living by working in nonunion establishments.

So allow me to raise some pertinent questions.

Why?

Why should McDonald’s and similar companies be forced to raise their minimum pay for slinging burgers or plopping a basket of fries into a deep fryer? Does plopping pre-cut potatoes at McDonald’s involve a technical, certified skill that’s taught at community colleges or trade schools?

And while there is a fine art to burger flipping, some fast-food joints merely take already-cooked burgers, nuggets of chicken and fishlike patties and warm them in an oven. Workers don’t even have to measure the beverages; they merely push a button and a machine does it for them.

Indeed, cashiers don’t need to know math (as we all are often reminded.) The register does the math.

And there are pictures on the keys of the register for taking orders — not unlike games and musical instruments designed for tykes, who at least have a good reason for not being able to read.

Why should Wal-Mart, the owners of the San Diego Chargers and the Utah Jazz, and other companies large and small be forced to pay arbitrary wage minimums?

Let’s go to one of the hottest of topics of the “living wage” debate — the District’s anti-Wal-Mart bill.

D.C. lawmakers passed a measure last month that calls for big-box retailers — the law is crafted so it currently applies only to Wal-Mart — to pay workers at least $12.50 per hour.

That might sound like chump change to the progressives and union supporters who back similar wage increases in major U.S. cities, but the motive behind their push for an increase is insidious.

Politicians pimp the poor, the immigrant and the minority. Their paternalism runs deep, because what they do not remind those particular constituencies is that there is a way up and out. Here are some cold-hard career facts for fast-food workers:

An estimated 4.1 million people work in the U.S. fast-food industry.

Of that number, 2.2 percent hold managerial, professional or technical positions.

Together, the numbers mean that these low-paying jobs shouldn’t be considered a career with much potential for upward mobility.

There are opportunities, though, if a worker is ambitious and motivated.

There are government-funded training programs that help lead to careers.

There are opportunities in the military that help lead to careers.

There are corporate training opportunities that help lead to careers.

However, front-line fast-food jobs are not careers. They are entry points into the workforce and the wages are — and should be — commensurate with that fact.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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