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Fast Food Pay Hike: Thirst Quencher or Recipe for Disaster?

Released: 12/3/2013 3:30 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Cornell University
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This Thursday, members of Fast Food Forward are planning to go on strike in 100 cities across the country to call for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and for union representation in the industry. Two Cornell University experts – with very different perspectives – are available to discuss how such moves would impact labor, the industry and consumers.

Burkhauser: Wage hikes are ‘job killers’

Richard Burkhauser, professor of Policy Analysis at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, says:

“Increases in the minimum wage may be of value to those interested in symbolically helping the working poor, but the reality of past minimum wage increases is quite different for teenagers and low-skilled workers. They are job killers for low skilled workers.

“The vast majority of those who benefit from minimum wage increases are not poor. They are second or third earnings in non-poor families. All studies – from Card and Krueger to Neumark and Wascher – have shown that increases in the minimum wage do not reduce poverty rates or reduce the number of workers who are poor.”

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Bronfenbrenner: Worker courage will change industry and lives

Kate Bronfenbrenner, senior lecturer and director of Labor Education Research at Cornell’s ILR School:

“Those first strikes sent a shockwave through the fast food industry, global corporations and the media, particularly when they were followed up by a series of strikes, each one larger than the first, culminating last August when thousands struck at the same time in 60 cities across the country, again for $15 an hour and a union.

“Fast-food franchises are the kinds of corporate structures – and have the type of high-turnover workforces – that many would view as unorganizable. But while the challenges are many, the last year has shown us that ultimately the courage of the workers, the strength of community support and the union strategy can make all the difference. That will continue to be the determinative factors in the future as well.

“The fast-food companies have also played a significant role in moving public support more toward the workers side. There has been a shift in media coverage more critical of McDonald’s in particular for hoarding their wealth rather than giving employees a living wage; and for stupid public relations mistakes such as advising employees to get food stamps and welfare.

“The success of Thursday’s strike, just as past strikes, will be measured by how many workers go out in how many stores in how many cities; the amount of community support at the strike locations; and finally the ability of labor and community supporters to help negotiate a full return to work of all the striking workers.

“But the more important and interesting question is what are the critical strategic choices the Fast Food Forward campaign needs to make to determine what kind of union will result from the campaign.”

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