News & Commentary

October 28, 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 New York Times explored the life of fast-food workers in Denmark, where employees at American fast-food chains earn $20 an hour. While Denmark has no minimum wage, $20 an hour is the base wage for fast-food workers throughout the country under an agreement between Denmark’s 3F union, the nation’s largest, and the Danish employers group Horesta, which includes Burger King, McDonald’s, Starbucks and other restaurant and hotel companies. The Times contrasts these wages with those paid to workers in the United States, where earnings for fast-food workers earn an average of $8.90 an hour – a wage so low that half of the nation’s fast-food workers rely on some form of public assistance according to a recent study from the University of California, Berkeley. Beyond the wages themselves, the Danish workers are guaranteed benefits their American counterparts are never even offered, including: set schedules months in advance, five weeks paid vacation, paid maternity and paternity leave, a pension plan, and guaranteed overtime after 6pm and all day Sunday. Still, Economists remain divided on whether such a high wage could be brought to the United States, as the Center for Economic Policy Research argues that American businesses could follow this model and remain profitable, while many other economists and business groups – such as the International Franchise Association – argue that the fundamental differences between Denmark and the United States, including high cost of living and taxes which fund a more generous social safety net, make the comparison akin to “apples and autos.”

International Business Times and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that labor group Wisconsin Jobs Now will file a lawsuit against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s administration as a tactic to force the governor to raise the state’s minimum wage. Wisconsin law requires the state to have a minimum wage which amounts to a “living wage” at which an individual can finance their basic needs, and Governor Walker issued a ruling concluding there was “no reasonable cause to believe” the state’s minimum wage was not a living wage in response to Wisconsin Jobs Now’s earlier complaint that the current wage amounted to “poverty wages.” However, according to an earlier report from the International Business Times, in coming to his conclusion that the current wage was a fair wage, Walker relied upon a study prepared by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association – a group representing restaurants and the fast-food industry – in dismissing calls for an increase to the minimum wage. Wisconsin Jobs Now claims that the complaint should have prompted a more thorough review than this, including more studies from unbiased sources and a potential “minimum wage council” of business, labor and the general public that could have evaluated what a true living wage for Wisconsin was. Governor Walker has dismissed the lawsuit, deeming it a “cheap political stunt.”

Politico “Morning Shift” reports that the International Franchise Association is preparing a website that will educate franchisees about the complexities of federal labor law. The IFA confirmed this, stating that the site was set up in response to franchisee questions regarding the factors the NLRB may be looking to when determining joint employer status. The concern comes on the heels of the NLRB considering naming McDonald’s a “joint employer” with franchisees, and it is against that backdrop that the IFA seems to be taking steps to protect franchisees from continued suits since the NLRB’s General Counsel announced that he believes McDonald’s is a joint employer.

The continuously widening pay gap between workers and top executives has, according to The Boston Globe, spurred at least three states – Massachusetts, California, and Rhode Island – to introduce measures that would limit executive pay in some way, shape or form. While none of these initiatives have been successful, the article points to the variation in the gap when industries and companies are compared. An example is major fast-food companies, where average CEO compensation was $23.8 million last year, more than 1,000 times what the average worker made – and nearly half of these workers also rely on public assistance. However, according to a representative of the conservative Employment Policies Institute, such numbers don’t reflect any realistic changes that can be made. The think-tank argues that even if the top five executives of fast-food conglomerate Yum! Brands cut their salaries in half and redistributed the difference to the company’s nearly 464,000 part-time employees, each worker would get only a 5-cent-an-hour raise.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.