Editorial: Food Worker Strike Valid?
Left, about a dozen protestors rallied Thursday at McDonald’s in northern Stevens Point for fair wages. (City-Times photo)
By Brandi Makuski
Thousands of food service workers across the nation today are expected to walk off the job- temporarily- during lunch hour to protest wages and union rights. According to one of the organizations responsible for planning the strike, Wisconsin Jobs Now, the workers are demanding $15/hour pay and the right to organize as a union without employer retribution.
The planned strike has already reinvigorated local and national debate about fair wages, union rights and working conditions. And regardless of your personal opinions on the matter, it’s always exciting when any group of people join together to protest something they perceive as unfair- that’s part of the American way of life.
But has that debate been fair- and if not, will it ever become so? Has the Wisconsin climate since Act 10 become so divisive that abstract elements vital to such a debate- union necessity, personal accountability, defining success and the modern entitlement mentality- go unaddressed? Or have the off- topic talking points about evil, rich corporations, smearing those with opposing beliefs and name-calling become our resting pulse?
If they do, preconceived ideas about corporations, worker’s rights and fair wages will never change. And maybe the environment of the entire industry will always be at a low, rolling boil based on its staple pillar of “the customer is always right”, particularly in a society with ever- increasing demands (and nerve) of some customers.
Food service workers have for years argued about a raise in minimum wage- and indeed there are those whose work ethic indicates a needed raise in pay. But for every one worker who is a success in the food industry, one is not, leading to a 47% turnover rate in the industry. Some of those workers who leave could be either supplementing other income or working their way through high school or college, but others simply left the industry for bigger and better opportunities.
Customer service isn’t a disgraceful job- though sometime it can feel demeaning. Flipping burgers didn’t always have a bad rap, either- a generation ago it was seen as a foot in the door of gainful employment- an opportunity to pay your bills and put some food on the table.
Making 8 or 9 bucks an hour doesn’t do either very well, granted, but those wages don’t necessarily reflect the very recent historical changes in what we as humans consider “necessities” in daily life- cable television, smart phones, new cars, iPads, etc.
Paying 8 or 9 bucks an hour, though, doesn’t bode well in terms of employee value. You get what you pay for.
Those unwilling to leave a low- paying job have no right to complain, though, because loving your job and making enough money to pay all your bills have never been necessarily mutually exclusive.
If the strikers and organizers play their cards right, they might make some positive changes for all workers in the industry. But the potential cost of those changes is sorely missing from the arguments made by strike organizers. It’s easy to say “damn the man” when you don’t consider- and account for- all possible end results of your actions.