Earlier this year, protests emerged across the United States as fast food workers demanded an increase to $10 hourly base pay. Across the globe, however, workers in the same positions are earning at least twice that. The base wage for fast food employees in Denmark is the equivalent of $20, providing a comfortable living wage for workers who – if in America – would be struggling to make ends meet.
The federal minimum wage in the U.S. sits at a steady $7.25, the rate many fast food jobs pay starting employees. The average rate of pay among fast food employees is around $9. In September, protesters got together again to picket for $15 an hour and the right to unionize effectively. President Barack Obama has stood behind a bill to steadily raise the minimum wage to $10.10. He came out in support of the protests in a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee where he declared, “America deserves a raise.”
“All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity,” he said.
Second-year Sarah Courson works at three fast food restaurants and is paid less than $9 per hour at each one, despite being a team leader.
“ I have been at one particular fast food restaurant for over four years and still only make $8.75 an hour,” Courson said. “Luckily for me, I live with my parents when home for the breaks or on campus so my housing is taken care of but I still had to be incredibly frugal when buying myself groceries and sometimes have to say no to going out because I cannot afford gas money until my next paycheck.”
“I wish I lived in Denmark!” Courson added.
While the core economic principles of the United States and Denmark are fundamentally opposed, Denmark’s high wages for fast food workers leave many American labor activists wondering how this other model works. Denmark is characterized by a high cost of living and high taxes which are offset by the large economic safety net and provisions such as universal health insurance, education and a strong collective bargaining system between unions and employers.
In Denmark, unions dominate and fast food companies aren’t nearly as popular as their U.S. counterparts. Despite smaller profits, the fast food industry as a whole offers their employees five weeks of paid vacation, paternity and maternity leave and a pension plan. Employees also report higher rates of satisfaction and stay with their jobs longer. McDonald’s employee retention rate in the U.S. averaged to less than eight months.
In the U.S. where Denmark’s social safety net is reserved for leftists’ fantasies, paying fast food workers $20 hourly may seem impossible. Currently, unionization is difficult because fast food employees are technically employed by franchise owners, not the corporations as a whole.
Seeking to sell the cheapest product, fast food companies say they can’t afford the 65 percent wage increase that many activists and protesters asked for. McDonald’s, for example, would have to raise prices 25 percent if they were to double their wages – from minimum $7.25 to $15 – costing customers up to a dollar more on popular items like the Big Mac, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. In Denmark, the Big Mac costs $5.60 to America’s $4.80, but consumer’s say it’s worth it.
The chronically low wages in fast food cause many to work very long hours or multiple jobs to make up the difference. “I also feel like when one is depending solely upon themselves for living or even has others solely depending upon them, it pushes them harder to work harder to get promotions at their current jobs or even encourages them to get multiple jobs,” Courson said. “During the semester, I work two part time jobs which equates to about 25 hours a week whereas when I’m home for breaks, I have to work two full time jobs from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week to make up for the semester’s monetary loss since I am also a full-time student.”
Fast food giants like McDonald’s and Burger King operate on a profit margin high enough to cushion the blow of increased wages. McDonald’s countered minimum wage strikes last year by saying that the raises “would potentially have a negative impact on employment and business growth in [their] restaurants, as well as value for [their] customers.” While the companies resist, 50 percent of fast food workers rely on public assistance such as food stamps to get by.
While individual companies hesitate to raise their wages, attempts in Congress to increase the minimum wage at a federal level have been quickly snuffed out by Republican opponents and business lobby groups.
There have been some significant wins for labor activists in America, such as Seattle’s move to increase its minimum wage to $15 and proposals in other major cities such as New York and Los Angeles to follow suit.
Information for this article was taken from http://www.nytimes.com, http://www.businessweek.com