Last night, 138 people were arrested on trespassing charges after an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 protesters reportedly stormed the McDonald's campus in Oak Brook, Illinois. Bloomberg News estimates 2,000 protesters, identifying 354 as McDonald's workers, who came on 32 buses. A McDonald's spokesperson called it a "very much staged event." The protesters were joined by the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has been providing financial support for a series of protests seeking a higher minimum wage. Protesters arrived again this morning for the annual McDonald's shareholder meeting in Chicago, though they left by bus by 8:30 a.m., according to the Chicago Tribune, which pointed to the "Fight for $15" group as one of the protest organizers.
Labor and other associated left-leaning groups have been targeting McDonald's to hike its wages and pushing for a hike in local, state, and federal minimum wages. They say the median wage of a McDonald's employee is $8.94 an hour, pointing to a number from the labor advocacy group National Employment Law Project. That's higher than the current federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, although President Obama has proposed a $10.10 federal minimum wage and as USA Today noted last week, four states have raised the minimum wage to that level already, and some cities are looking to push it even higher. The minimum wage is shaping up to be an issue Democrats want to run on in 2014.
Proponents of a minimum wage hike insist it won't squeeze low wage workers out of a job and say they are pushing for it to help such workers, some of the donors appear to know better. The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney noted earlier this month that Panera CEO Ron Shaich, an Obama donor and proponent of a higher statutory minimum wage, is also deploying touchscreens at his restaurants. As Ira Stoll explained earlier this week, it's how raising the minimum wage destroys jobs. As labor costs look to be increasing, McDonald's could be heading in that direction too; it has deployed thousands of touchscreen kiosks in restaurants in Europe earlier this month.
Last year, Nick Gillespie put the SEIU's push for higher fast food wages in perspective:
The push to hike fast-food wages is indicative not of a brutal new economy but of a labor movement that is not only disconnected from reality but also almost completely devoid of vision. Remember in the late 1980s and early 1990s when soothsayers were bitching and moaning about "McJobs" and the perils of becoming a "nation of burger flippers"? Back then, Big Labor was convinced that the North American Free Trade Agreement would export all but the most servile tasks down Mexico way (they were way, way wrong about that, by the way). Nowadays, the SEIU and other groups seem to see flipping burgers as positively aspirational.
It needn't be. While there is nothing wrong with any job, the simple fact is that nobody is going to get rich—or even comfortably middle class—if his or her main gig is punching the buttons at a McCafe. The skills necessary to work there are simply not that advanced to increase wages exponentially and the entire economy of fast food is based on keeping prices—and by extension, wages—relatively low.
Rather than focus on fast food, it would be smarter to focus where the jobs—and wages—are. There's something on the order of 3.7 million openings (about the size of the entire minimum wage workforce) in various trades ranging from construction to carpentry to ++electrical to welding. These are jobs that are not only in high demand but pay relatively high wages, often around the median household income of $51,000. Mike Rowe, the former host of the cable show Dirty Jobs, makes a compelling case that these are exactly the sort of gigs that can secure people steady work that allows for advancement and serious benefits. Freeing low wage workers by providing them such opportunities, however, would put a dent in the business opportunities in professional protesting labor groups enjoy.