NY Fast Food Strike: A Roving Band with Minders

The union organized fast food walkout Thursday turns out to have been heavy on the walking and light on the “out.” In New York at least, there was a group of about 100-150 who walked from one restaurant to another. According to Reason, any place the roving band wasn’t picketing it was business as usual.

Reason interviewed several people about the protest, one of whom admitted they were being paid through by a union slush fund to be there. Eventually one of the group’s organizers decided it would be best if everyone stopped agreeing to talk. Toward the end of this clip you’ll see him stepping in and whispering in people’s ears.

Back in July the Huffington Post published a piece purporting that doubling salaries at McDonald’s (the largest fast food chain) would only raise the price of a Big Mac by $0.68. It turned out the analysis they relied upon was badly flawed and the story was retracted. In fact, HuffPost concluded that the cost of labor was about a third of the average fast food restaurant’s budget. Therefore, “the price of a Big Mac would go up by $1.28 to $5.27.” In addition:

A doubling of wages at McDonald’s would almost certainly involve some
layoffs, asserts Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and
Policy Research and a HuffPost blogger. At the same time, more workers
would stay in their jobs longer, Baker added.

Now it’s still possible to argue that this is a tradeoff people should be willing to make. It’s even possible to argue, as Robert Reich did, that higher paid workers are better for the company long term. But there are definitely tradeoffs involved for customers, for employees and for the business owners.

Fast food business owners rightly suspect that many customers may blanch at a $5.27 Big Mac. In a sense, the employees problem is ultimately not with the owners so much as it is with the customers who aren’t going to like seeing a 25-30% across the board increase on every fast food item. Owners know that those prices will change behavior.

For instance, taking a family to McDonalds for dinner might cost $25. Taking the same family to a nicer sit down restaurant might cost $50. What happens when the McDonalds meal (or any fast food meal) jumps to $32-$33 overnight? Do people decide to go out less often? Do they decide to eat at Chillis instead of McD’s which is now only slightly cheaper? A bump of that size would definitely have some real impact on customer’s choices, probably not in the chain’s favor.

Watching the Reason clip one wonders how many of the paid protesters–who the organizers don’t trust to speak for themselves–even know that what they’re asking for could mean immediate layoffs and ultimately an entire sector that attract less business leading to even more layoffs. These are tradeoffs that may not work out well for all of those protesters.