- - Thursday, September 4, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The unions want it their way in about 150 cities. Labor organizers orchestrated a rowdy series of protests against fast-food restaurants Thursday, demanding a doubling of the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Who wouldn’t want that, even without fries?

Well, the fast-food workers and the consumers, if they think about it. McDonald’s, Burger King and the other targets are in business to sell meals at the lowest possible price to suit families. These low-margin franchises are often owned by a small-business owner, not the corporate parent, and labor represents the single greatest cost on the ledger. Doubling that would turn the “dollar menu” into the “$10 menu.”

Nobody would pay $10 for a Big Mac. If a businessman must pay $15 an hour to each employee, cutting the number of employees would be the only way he could hold down prices. That change is in the works.

Tomorrow’s Happy Meal won’t come with a smile, but with the soulless beep of acknowledgment from a computer. In Europe, McDonald’s has replaced thousands of cashiers with 7,000 touch-screen ordering pads. There’s no other way to make a profit in the European welfare state.

The CEO of Panera Bread, the sandwich-shop chain, is a big fan of President Obama and minimum-wage increases, but the company is furiously buying the touch-screen ordering systems. Panera knows how the bread is buttered. Now the employees who thought they were getting a benefit from the minimum-wage increase will get nothing per hour.

In solidarity with the unions, Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, says $15 is not enough. She wants California to set the hourly wage at $26. As long as the government is substituting its own arbitrary number for the judgment of the businessman, why stop at $26? Surely $50 would make living well even easier, especially in a state with taxes as high as they are in California.

Whether the hourly minimum wage is raised to $15, $26 or $50, teenagers with no experience will be hurt most, and black teenagers most of all. They face a 34.9 percent unemployment in the Obama economy. If they’re not being hired at $7.25 an hour, who could hire them at $15 an hour, to say nothing of $26?

For millions, the food-service industry has been the first rung on the ladder to success. Employees start at minimum wage, and with hard work they can be quickly promoted to greater responsibilities. Store managers, many of whom started with working the cash register, can make nearly $60,000 a year.

The unions seem to care little about the plight of the entry-level young. Many union contracts are tied to the minimum-wage rate. Union organizers might shed tears for entry-level workers, but common union contracts mandate dues-paying employees receive a 50-cent premium over the minimum wage.

Fast-food employees misled by union promises into joining the protests would change their tune once the rate increase takes effect. Once replaced by a kiosk, they’ll be complaining: “I’m not lovin’ it.”