News & Commentary

November 17, 2014

This post is part of an ongoing of series on the fast food organizing movement. You can read all our Fast Food News here.

The Washington Post reports that restaurant hiring is growing twice as fast as the labor market, all while fewer Americans are dining out. Most of the jobs are the part-time, lower-wage work, but these jobs have accounted for almost one of every six non-farm jobs created during the recovery. The reason that the industry can continue to add jobs while demand remains flat is due to sheer population growth rather than any uptick in dining. Further, it seems that the higher end is growing while fast food market share declines. Even within fast food, it is the fast casual, “higher end” restaurants that continue to grow while the low-end stalwarts of the industry continue to see profits shrink.

This increase in hiring has potentially led to higher wages, according to USA Today, which reports that young low- and middle-wage workers are seeing their earnings rise more rapidly than their older, higher-paid counterparts, reversing the trend that prevailed early in the economic recovery. According to payroll processor ADP, average hourly pay for workers earning less than $20,000 per year rose by 5.4% year-over-year, and those earning between $20,000 and $50,000 saw year-over-year increases of 4.9%. In contrast, those earning more than $50,000 say increases of 4.3%. Such increases stand in contrast to the drumbeat of wage stagnation, and these figures are likely overstated as it relates to average U.S. wage growth, since companies that can afford ADP’s services are doing better than U.S. businesses overall. Still, the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that workers at the 10th percentile of the pay ladder saw average annual raises of 3% in the year ending Sept. 30, while earnings for the 90th percentile edged up a mere 0.5%. Two factors for this growth may be at play: an increase in the minimum wage in several states and localities, coupled with rapid growth in low-wage positions in the service sector, leading to more competition for workers.

Bloomberg Businessweek assures readers that 2016 will not be the year that we see a $20 minimum wage. Although there is momentum for local and statewide initiatives to increase the minimum in the face of a stalled Congress, residents in most states shouldn’t expect to see pushes for rates higher than $15 any time soon, and even the $15 mark will be limited to the largest, most progressive metropolitan areas.

Still, while minimum wage workers may be seeing increased wages, whether based on the market or minimum wage hike initiatives, there is now pressure to ensure that those workers actually see these increases in their take-home pay. The Nation reports that rampant wage theft in these low-wage sectors may leave workers with even less than their already low earnings, with projections based on surveys of low-wage workers estimating that workers are losing more than $50 billion a year due to wage theft. According to The Nation, the solution is ensuring that wage-and-hour laws have teeth, with an example being the National Employment Law Project’s enforcement framework that combines worker empowerment and education with aggressive investigation from labor agencies beyond the traditional complaint-driven system.

The Independent reports on the Fight for 15 campaign and its trip to Britain, where fast food workers from the United States have joined forces with Britain’s Hunger for Justice Campaign, led by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU), in an attempt to achieve similar wage increases across the pond. In Britain, tens of thousands of fast food workers are earning little more than the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour, and even lower for younger staff, as 18-20 year olds can earn a minimum of £5.13 an hour and those under 18 can earn as little as £3.79– all well below the business-endorsed “London Living Wage” of £9.25 an hour. The fast food industry, however, has resisted paying workers the “London Living Wage,” arguing that it would result in price increases – an assertion that workers dispute. McDonalds, who is celebrating their 40th anniversary in the UK, responded to these claims by arguing that it has contributed more than £40 billion to the national economy and created more than 1.5 million jobs to date, with plans to add 8,000 new jobs within the next three years.

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