McDonald’s vs. The Labor Movement

There’s been a lot of hubbub about the call for a $15/hr minimum wage for McDonald’s employees.

The following is a look at why those workers may be disappointed.

Employment is a voluntary agreement between two parties. If you don’t like what McD’s is paying, your most effective recourse is to go somewhere else.

Think of it like a landlord deciding to raise the rent on a tenant.

They can’t force you to stay and pay the elevated rent. You can leave if you find the price too high; absent a lease, you’re not bound to the property. The landlord may have more leverage–you don’t want to uproot your life, you don’t have the money to move–allowing him to rule with a heavy hand.

It might not seem fair and they may have you over a barrel, but it’s not illegal: people have the right to conduct business as they see fit.

They can’t jack the rent up to $10K a month, just to line their pockets. If they did that, they’d find themselves with an empty building real fast. They have to find a number that’s low enough to attract tenants, but high enough to generate profit. The Goldilocks Principle.

The McD’s wage conflict shares many of the same nuances.

You can’t force a company to pay you more money for the same task. You can ASK, but you can’t force them to. You can up your chances by appealing to their interests, but the ultimate decision on compensation rests in their hands.

All this talk about higher wages will just encourage McDonald’s to add more automation to their in-store experience. Fast-food workers, especially those who man the cashier, will become like bank tellers….replaced by machines, casualties in the war to cut costs.

I would not be surprised if some clever business interest in robotics or engineering is tacitly supporting the labor movement, encouraging them to walk right over a cliff so he can pick up the pieces.

Another issue that deserves mention:

People treat McDonald’s as one faceless, corporate entity. The people who bear the brunt of this wage increase will be local franchisees, business people who live in and around the community, not the wealthy CEO who’s kicking his heels up at his mansion.

Like most economic issues that confront the average citizen, “The Man” remains well above the fray. Any crusaders pushing this measure as a means to “spread the wealth” can find better targets. To the extent that a $15/hr wage will affect the finances of the McD’s decision-makers, they will pass the cost on to consumers through increased food prices or, more likely, smaller portions.

Let me add this as well:

I acknowledge that it’s extremely difficult for most to leave a job and go
 elsewhere. This post is not an indictment on the institution of a minimum wage, either. This is just a hard knocks message to those who think wage increases at McDonald’s are going to solve the deeper economic struggles that exist at present.

Happiness isn’t one protest away.

This is a look at how the people who own/run McDonald’s stores are making 
their decisions. A holistic view that counters anecdotes of struggling single mothers and the big, bad businesses who lack the compassion to provide a living wage.

If it makes dollars, it makes sense.

This is not a wholesale endorsement of big business’ employment practices, some of which are short-sighted and abusive (see “clopenings”). It’s a practical view of the world we live in.

In a perfect world, everyone would make fifty dollars an hour and prices would never go up. Unfortunately, we do not live in a utopia. Businesses exist to make money—any decision is going to be examined through that perspective. If it makes dollars (or prevents them from losing them), that will be the preferred option.

Entry-level jobs are waypoints, experiences you can reminisce about after moving on to something better. Much of that incentive to let you learn on the job goes away when a company is paying you top dollar—especially if you’re replaceable.

You have to check your idealism at the door.

Of course, you are free to start your own company. Then, you can pay employees as much as you like.

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