Wage rage

The minimum wage debate in the foodservice sector continues to divide opinion in New York and further across the US, reports Amelia Levin

Both New York and California have passed measures to gradually raise the state mandated minimum wage to $15 per hour. This follows a more than three–year long campaign by fast food restaurant employees and workers’ rights advocates that had sparked protests nationwide.

“When FDR proposed the minimum wage you know what he said? ‘If you work full time you should be paid a wage that provides a decent living,” New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a rally after signing the minimum wage increase bill, which also includes a 12-week paid family leave policy. “The truth is at $9 an hour, you can’t afford to raise a family in New York and that’s why we’re going to raise [the minimum wage] to $15 to restore fairness and decency.”

New York State’s new minimum will rise gradually until it hits $15 by either 2018 or 2019, depending upon the type of business.

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state’s bill, which will raise California’s $10 minimum wage by 50 cents next year and to $11 by 2018. The minimum wage will continue to increase by $1 each year until 2022, when the wage will lock in at $15/hour. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees will have an extra year to comply.

President Barack Obama praised the legislation, and urged congress to consider raising the federal minimum wage. “It’s time for Congress to step up and do what is right for every hard-working American and for our economy,” he said in a statement.

Critics of the minimum wage hikes say businesses might cut back on hires given the higher labor costs. The National Restaurant Association has fought against proposed minimum wage hikes since the beginning, arguing restaurants already operate on razor-thin profit margins and many smaller businesses might face more challenges meeting higher labor costs.

Over the course of the past few years, fast food workers in more than 200 cities worldwide have held protests at major company headquarters, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC, demanding both higher wages, paid sick days and the right to form unions without retaliation.

Previous strikes taken place in New York, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Washington D.C., Chicago and Seattle. Several organizing groups and campaigns have rallied around a “Fight for 15” – or a $15 an hour wage – which is more than double the federal minimum at $7.25/hour.

These advocacy groups, including Fast Food Forward and the Service Employees International Union contest that the rising costs of living are driving the need for higher income in all industries. They also argue a wage increase might “professional-ize” the industry more and attract higher-skilled labor.

Research from the National Employment Law Project states that restaurant occupations such as cooks, delivery workers and cashiers earn an average of $8.94 per hour and consist of roughly 90 percent of all jobs in the fast food industry. Shift managers and supervisors earn a median hourly wage of about $13 an hour and constitute eight percent of the industry’s jobs. Higher paid general managers and other professionals only make up two percent of the jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77 percent of those earning the starting or minimum wage in the restaurant industry are part-time employees, 71 percent are under the age of 25, and 47 percent are teenagers.

Amelia Levin




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