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TIP JARS FOR FAST FOOD

Fast food workers are striking to have their wages doubled and to be able to unionize, though the fast food spots near Kenwood in Cincinnati seemed to be doing business as usual last night.

It's likely that some of the protesters are not picketing their places of employment, but are professionals hired (at $15 an hour? more likely minimum wage) to carry posters. People who actually have jobs at fast food places can't afford to miss work, give up their pay, and possibly lose their jobs just for the sake of doing union work. (Google it: you can hire picketers, just like you can hire crowds of "supporters" for your political campaign, or occupiers.)

Many people who work in fast food are entry-level workers, often students, who will be moving on to other jobs. These are often temp jobs. Those who stay in these jobs for a long time may become managers, which is why often instead of "help wanted" signs, you can see "management opportunity" signs at these stores. The best workers can move into management.

If fast food prices go up because of a forced increase in wages, that wouldn't be a disaster, though it might hurt a lot of poor people who primarily eat fast food. If people lose their jobs, let's say because fast food service becomes more automated, it would be a disaster for a lot of workers. But if some restaurants are forced out of business, this would be just one more nail in the free enterprise coffin (the key word is "free").

The unions, who are driving this move and who have a tight relationship with Obama, do not always have the workers' best interests at heart. Some years ago, a Cincinnati company was bought by a consortium of new owners, who faced serious financial problems. This company had a strong union and the workers received high pay for essentially unskilled factory labor, $15 an hour, and excellent benefits. The owners explained that the company would fold if the union didn't make some concessions. They even opened their books to the union reps and the workers, which is not usually done. The union negotiator tried to explain to the workers that this was real, the company would shut down if they couldn't improve their credit rating and cash flow by getting some reductions in future wage or retirement increases, still only on the books. Another union leader who was able to make decisions and influence the other workers had a workers-against-the-bosses mindset, and would not believe, or understand, the numbers in front of him. The union refused to make any concessions, even when it was explained to the workers that it was unlikely that they would ever find jobs as good as the ones they had, being unskilled labor. The company did go out of business, and years later some of the workers admitted that they were wrong; they were working twice as hard for half the money. They had no unique skills. Unions have local bosses who may or may not have common sense. The national and international bosses are more like the corporate bigwigs than the workers, and they want that union money to keep flowing in, which may not always work to the employees' advantage.

In other words, fast food workers who lose their jobs, even if they are good workers, may have acquired skills only applicable to other fast food jobs, and those jobs will dwindle if the minimum wage doubles.

Since so many fast food workers are temps, perhaps the restaurants need a specialized temp agency for fast food workers. However, this can also result in higher costs and lower wages.

One point that is seldom brought up in public discussions of economics is that some workers will never be able to advance professionally. A fast food job may not be a stepping stone for them. Some people do not have the mental ability to learn very much. True, a lot of people don't have the will to go to school and train for something, but there will always be a percentage of the population who cannot do more than the lowest level jobs. And we need those people, because we need to have simple jobs done. For instance, who is more essential than a janitor? This is not to say that janitors are not intelligent. Anyone might do any job. You don't know who you're talking to when you talk to someone who is doing a job you think is beneath you. Nevertheless, a lot of jobs don't require much in the way of education or ability. People who do those jobs all their lives may have family support and be able to get by on low wages. Many of the mentally, psychologically, and physically handicapped are employable. The economy isn't likely to up their pay just because they have nowhere else to go, but this might be a more reasonable basis for wage increase than an across-the-board fast food pay hike. If we paid people based on the necessity of their work, like anyone who cleans up, wages would rise for some people.

Another, more frequently mentioned element of the minimum wage debate is illegal immigrant labor. No longer just an issue in the Southwest, employers everywhere are using cheap illegal labor where the ability to speak English isn't essential. Most people understand that illegal Mexican immigrants are desperate to find jobs and survive. American employers will do what is necessary to survive also.

A less painful solution for fast food workers could be to put tip jars on the counters. Waiters and waitresses are not (yet) protesting, and minimum wage for tipped servers is only $3.70. If tips are good, which is based on the menu prices and the quality of their work, they can make a decent wage. Who wouldn't leave a tip for a McBurger?