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Economy & Business

Fast Food Workers Call for Higher Wages

David Schott, Flickr

Organizers in a number of cities are pushing for fast food wages to climb to $15, and for employees to form unions.

Mike Wilder works for the group Wisconsin Jobs Now. He says many workers earn the minimum: $7.25/hour.

“Fast food workers are not receiving enough to support their families. They’re working long hours, giving it their all, making sure that they are doing their job sufficiently. But we’ve seen so many examples of workers who have to, unfortunately, rely on government assistance just to get by,” Wilder says.

A number of interested workers picketed outside fast food restaurants earlier this year. On Monday, some will attend a news conference in town, demanding higher pay for low wage workers. Congresswoman Gwen Moore and a couple House colleagues will be there. They’re urging the president to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour, over the next three years.

“It would benefit our economy right now, by putting about $33 billion more into the economy -- just an immediate kind of injection,” Moore says.

Moore insists most businesses could afford the hike. She says about two-thirds of low-wage workers are employed by large corporations that have recovered from the recession.

However, the restaurant industry says the increase would be bad for business – and ultimately for workers. Pete Hanson is a spokesman for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

“The labor cost is fully one-third of the cost of running a typical restaurant, so it is a big expense,” Hanson says.

Hanson says owners would have two choices if they had to pay more: either raise prices or cut jobs. He also takes exception with the portrayal of fast food workers as adults, trying to raise a family on the salary.

“That’s either disingenuous or uninformed to say that the typical minimum wage worker is trying to support a family. That’s just not true. That’s only about 15 percent of people in entry level jobs who are in that situation,” Hanson says.

Hanson says quite a few fast food workers are students or people picking up a second job. He adds that their pay rises quickly, as they demonstrate skills and a good work ethic.

Yet for those who do rely on the minimum wage, life can be challenging, according to Marc Levine. He’s a UW-Milwaukee economist.

“The minimum wage -- which, in the late 1960s, early 1970s, was almost 60 percent of the average worker’s wage -- is now probably about 37 or 38 percent of the average worker’s wage,” Levine says.

The last time the country bumped up the minimum wage was 2009, when it rose from $6.55 to $7.25.