Workers walked out of McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and other fast food restaurants to protest their low wages, which are demonstrably not enough to live on. The protest happened in New York, Chicago, Detroit and a slew of other cities, and the fast food workers were expected to be joined by employees of large stores, such as Macy’s, Sears and Dollar Tree. In New York, fast food workers were joined by City Councilmember and prominent Mayoral candidate, Christine Quinn, as they marched to a McDonald’s in the Empire State Building.
The protestors core demand: an increase in the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. While that’s not going to happen with this Congress, the protest does create a citizen movement to back up President Obama’s initiative to boost the minimum wage to $9 an hour.
McDonald’s is in a particularly tough spot on this issue: an employee budgeting tool that McDonald’s released in July showed that the company presumes their employees make nearly half their money at a second job. The message: even McDonald’s knows that they are not providing a living wage. At the same time, the movement to raise the minimum wage is in a tricky spot: many people support the fast food workers, but that is unlikely to make them stop eating at McDonald’s, and business lobbies will forever fight any increase in the minimum wage.
Some businesses, like CostCo, provide good wages because they want to be a desirable place to work, and they may even see it as a moral obligation to provide their employees with a living wage. Employers at large, however, cannot be relied on for morality. That’s why it is up to state and federal governments to make them do it by raising the minimum wage, perhaps starting with businesses that have 50 or more employees. Liberals have popular opinion on their side here, and they should continue to isolate conservatives on this issue.