Commentary Magazine


Fast Food Protests Divorced From Reality

If you were in the mood for a fast-food meal yesterday or today in several parts of the country, you were in for a surprise: loud protests outside the doors of some major chain restaurants. Several chains in metropolitan areas were affected by protests demanding higher wages at establishments like McDonald’s and Burger King. A local free daily newspaper in New York City, amNewYork, interviewed one of the workers leading the charge:

“When you have a family and work in the fast food industry, you just have to forget about it,” said Greg Reynoso, 27, a former Dominos Pizza employee who now organizes his peers.

The question that comes to mind first is this: Who said anyone could or should support an entire family on the salary of a fast-food employee? Has anyone ever reasonably made that promise? 

Traditionally, one envisions a fast food employee as a teenager working their first job. The marketing strategy of these chains is that they are an inexpensive quick stop for lower and middle-income Americans to feed themselves and their families. Menu options are made affordable in many ways, not least of which is by keeping labor costs at a minimum. Any added costs, including labor, would then be passed down to the customer via increased prices, making these cheap meals unaffordable to those who need to watch every dime and dollar. If restaurants are unable to attract customers with their new, higher, price points the jobs of those striking as well as those who are not would disappear. 

The group behind the latest protests, Fast Food Forward, calling for the minimum wage increase from $7.25 an hour to the laughable amount of $15 an hour in New York City, are no strangers to organized protest. The director of Fast Food Forward, Jonathan Westin, also runs New York Communities for Change (NYCC), the renamed and reorganized descendent of the now defunct ACORN, which was disgraced and brought down by an expose that made the activist James O’Keefe famous. In late 2011 NYCC was rocked by a Fox News report linking the group with paid protesters at Occupy Wall Street. At the time Fox News reported:

“They reminded us that we can get fired, sued, arrested for talking to the press,” the source said. “Then they went through the article point-by-point and said that the allegation that we pay people to protest isn’t true.”

 “‘That’s the story that we’re sticking to,’” Westin said, according to the source.

The source said staffers at the meeting contested Westin’s denial:

“It was pretty funny. Jonathan told staff they don’t pay for protesters, but the people in the meeting  who work there objected and said, ‘Wait, you pay us to go to the protests every day?’ Then Jonathan said  ‘No, but that’s your job,’ and staffers were like, ‘Yeah, our job is to protest,’ and Westin said, ‘No your job is to fight for economic and social justice. We just send you to protest.’

“Staff said, ‘Yes, you pay us to carry signs.’ Then Jonathan says, ‘That’s your job.’ It went on like that back and forth for a while.”

Late last year and in April of this year the same kind of protests were held by Fast Food Forward, even sporting the exact same signs, with overt references to unionization in addition to $15/hour wages. In last year’s protest the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was involved and in this year’s protests, their Facebook page has posted several times about the protests as well as lending their public support.

Is this a grassroots effort sweeping through the kitchens of fast-food restaurants across New York City and nationwide? Despite the full-page treatment in newspapers and stories on cable news to a movement with a large number of petition signatures and loud protests, it doesn’t appear to be. If it was, perhaps we would have heard about fast-food chains shutting down due to understaffing yesterday. Instead, we were treated to images of dozens of familiar prefabricated placards outside restaurants, carried through the city by a group linked to paying protesters in the recent past.

What’s in it for the groups organizing and perhaps even paying for these protests? If even a fraction of these restaurants were able to unionize, the payout for SEIU would be enormous. How would the workers who are supposedly leading this movement fare? Many of these employees, who were already facing reduced hours thanks to the union-supported ObamaCare, would likely see at least part of any raise going toward union dues. Restaurants, already operating on tight profit margins, would be forced to either close or raise prices in order to make up for increased labor costs, making meals unaffordable for many.

If restaurants were forced to close under the increased weight not only of increased labor costs, but also new ObamaCare regulation requirements, employees wouldn’t be asking for raises, they’d be asking for any job at all. Employees and other individuals in their income bracket would not only be left unemployed, but also without inexpensive meal options for their families. With all of this in mind one has to wonder: Who are these protest groups really advocating for? 

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