For the umpteenth time, fast food workers protests to improve wages. Most of the protests involved picketing a franchise during work hours, but several protestors were arrested outside McDonald’s corporate office. So the obvious question is, will the protests work?
The National Labor Relations Act permits workers to collectively strike for the purpose of improving or drawing attention to a workplace condition. Therefore while an employer may refuse to compensate a worker for an absence, an employee is protected from being fired for an absence on account of a protest. An employer, however, does not have to heed an employee’s demands and alter schedules or hire a temporary employee to perform the work while an employee protest. An employee, therefore, risks financial hardships to protest for the off chance that the employer will consider a slight change.
The average hourly wage for full time fast food employees at McDonalds is $9.09 per hour. President Obama on several occasions has expressed interest to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. Unfortunately for him, Congress has other issues like immigration reform and re-elections that have taken priority. So workers are redirecting their efforts to the public.
According to Time, the movement to protest fast food restaurants began in New York City in November 2012. For many workers, the purpose is a personal message to their employer to increase their wage (versus a message to Congress to increase the national minimum wage). They must, however, identify and recognize the employer with the power to increase wages. According to McDonald’s spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, “approximately 80% of our global restaurants are independently owned and operated by small-business owners, who are independent employers that comply with local and federal laws.” Therefore it is not a billionaire corporate executive hoarding money from a full-time cashier, it is a small business franchise owner conserving his or her expenses to ensure a profit. In some cases a franchise owner cannot afford to raise wages. So if Congress is not listening, corporate office has little power, and franchise owners have financial hindrances, perhaps the best means for demanding change is through state legislators.
It is no secret that the cost of living in New York or California is higher than the cost of living in Georgia or Tennessee. And both New York and California have higher minimum wage requirements than federal law, unlike Georgia or Tennessee. State legislators are more assessable for workers to demand change, and residents are more sympathetic to the plight of their own to advocate for change. The National Employment Law Project provides that thirteen states have increased their minimum wages by an average of 28 cents. So while some workers are getting their employers to take notice, and in some cases increase a wage by 10 cents or slightly more, state legislatures can make bigger changes for a large amount of people. That is the change that makes the protests worth it.