Fast and Penurious

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Last week, fast food workers in 60 cities across the nation struck for higher wages and the right to unionize without retaliation. The strikes -- a quarter of which were on the West Coast -- are the culmination of previous work stoppages that started in New York last November.

Fast food workers have good reasons to protest.

Most fast food workers are paid poverty-level wages: 13 percent are paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 or less; 83 percent earn less than $10 per hour or less; 27 percent have at least one child.

Most fast food workers are older and better educated than industry representatives would have us believe. A majority are adults over 21, and have at least a high school diploma.

But their opportunities for advancement are extremely limited. Industry groups protray low-paid positions as stepping-stones to management. But front-line occupations comprise more than 89 percent of the jobs. For most employees, advancement is unlikely and owning a franchise is a pipe dream.


Finally, the fast food industry has seen an epidemic of "wage theft."  Often forced to submit to criminal background checks, fast food workers are overwhelmingly the victims, not the perpetrators, of crime at work: 84 percent of New York City workers have experienced wage theft, including failure to pay overtime or receive required breaks, improper deductions and late or bounced paychecks.

These workers are striking because they have few options and little to lose. In July, McDonald's published a budget for employees that inadvertently admitted it was impossible to survive on the poverty-level wages it pays front-line employees.
Fast food workers deserve a raise and a union.

With a Perspective, I'm John Logan.

John Logan is a professor and Director of Labor and Employment Relations at San Francisco State University.