This story and the potential for change it brings excites me more than the #funemployment hippie* party, #Occupy, ever did. Insightful, Hamilton Nolan writes:
By 11:30 this morning, several dozen people wrapped in winter coats and wielding hand-drawn posters had assembled on the corner in front of the Wendy’s on the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn, across from the Modell’s and the Bank of America, with the purpose of addressing that most fascinating question in labor relations: Can fast food workers ever be unionized? Here, in New York, today, a lot of fast food workers decided to skip the theory and proceed directly to the “Fuck you, pay me” phase of the process.
“I’m tired of being courteous to guests for $7.25!” thundered one of the workers to her peers. As a former McDonald’s worker who was never asked to work the register due to a lack of enthusiasm for customer service, I find that sentiment very difficult to argue with. The protest at Wendy’s was just one of several throughout New York City today, all part of the launch of a new unionization campaign aimed at NYC’s fast food workers, one which is backed by several activist groups and big unions and dozens of organizers and is not, I daresay, fucking around. Our city is, if you open your eyes, a bit, littered with fast food restaurants—it is only the most affluent neighborhoods that can afford not to have them. All of these restaurants are staffed by our fellow New Yorkers. Many of them are paid $7.25 an hour, the state minimum wage, and they’re scheduled for fewer than 30 hours a week, on average. They’re asking for $15 an hour. Still not all that much to live on. But much more than they get now.
In order for unionization to proceed successfully, labor must possess two essential characteristics: (I) it must be undervalued/exploited (at least according to the public,who might boycott), and (II) it must be organized enough to outlast management.
As to whether or not fast food labor is undervalued/exploited, here’s my reasoning on the topic:
(1) $7.25/hr. x 30 hours/wk x 52 weeks/year = $11,310/yr. – this is not enough to live anywhere in America let alone in New York City. Even outside of New York City, I don’t know how any one person could live off that, let alone people with families they have to support.
(2) I am aware that – like Walmart – many fast food restaurants exploit loopholes in regulations designed to improve the standard of living for everyone by putting a ceiling just below the level of hours worked where benefits start to legally kick in. They can do this because they know their labor force is at the lowest rung of the economic totem pole, and they know the only other alternative for fast food workers is to be unemployed.
That is to say, fast food restaurants prey on cheap labor from marginalized populations because they know such employees are desperate; and then they target those same populations with advertisements.
This is all part of a clear and systematic plan to exploit the poor for their labor, take what little money they have, cause them to die an early cardiovascular death as a direct result of over-consumption of fast food products, and then outsource the cleanup costs of whatever societal/medical ills inevitably result to taxpayers (Guess who’s going to be paying for these people’s medical care/health insurance with Obamacare about to kick in? Guess who’s paying for their medical care/health insurance right now in the more-civilized states?).
It’s fucking ridiculous.
So basically, to sum it up, I’m sold on the idea that fast food labor is undervalued and exploited, and if I were not already boycotting fast food for obvious health reasons, I would boycott for reasons of social and economic justice.
Regarding the second essential characteristic for unionization – organization – when I first read this story, I thought to myself: really!? You’re going to try to unionize now!? When fast food restaurants are enjoying record profits and unemployment rates are stratospheric!? They’ll just fire you and replace you with some immigrant or high school kid immediately.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that the unionization of fast food workers is an evolutionary phenomenon.
What I mean by that is that, life at minimum wage sucks: more and more people are choosing to join the protests now than would have in the past because fast food employees are desperate now, whereas in the past they may have been too apathetic or too fearful to reach critical mass for unionization. Fast food workers now, when there are no other options, are motivated, maybe even motivated enough to stick it out, make a lot of noise, and inspire the kind of boycott shamelessly opportunistic and amoral, yet unimaginative and predictable fast food management routinely caves in to.