Helping American Fast Food Workers Achieve Their American Dream

Workers in the fast food industry have been trying to increase their salary to a level they can live on. They have protested, struck, and spoken to their congressman. Despite their efforts, their employers are in no hurry to pay a living wage when they can employ legal immigrants, illegal aliens, and refugees. This creates a large labor pool that drives down wages.

Dependence on illegal labor is the elephant in the room for the U.S. restaurant business. Gone are the days of big raids that snared large numbers of workers, mostly from Mexico and Central America. Under Obama, immigration enforcement agents are cracking down on employers with so-called "I-9 audits" -- I-9 being the employment eligibility verification form. The companies can simply go out and hire others or pay fines to ICE that probably won't dent their bottom lines. Total ICE fines last year were a paltry $7 million. It is hard to know the extent of hiring of illegal aliens in restaurants. But legal immigrants and illegal aliens account for about a quarter of workers in the restaurant and food services industry and their numbers are up in recent years.

Fast-food workers are in the lowest paid occupational category. The median hourly wage for front line fast-food workers is $8.94 nationally. Many don’t even earn that. A shortage of hours further limits income. Fast-food workers work only 24 hours a week on average — at $8.94 an hour, this adds up to barely $11,000 a year. The majority of fast-food workers now are adults, with a median age of 28. These are jobs that many adults are dependent on to support families. More than one in four fast-food workers are raising children, according to a Center for Economic and Policy Research study.

Wages are so low that many workers have to turn to public assistance for basic survival. Which means that taxpayers must subsidize the poverty wages that fast-food corporations pay their employees. That’s indefensible, especially considering corporate fast-food giants are enjoying robust profits. McDonald’s raked in $5.5 billion in profits in 2012 — a 27 percent increase in profits over five years — while YUM! Brands posted $1.6 billion in profits last year. We work hard for companies that are making millions," the 34-year-old Wise says, adding that he lost his home last year, unable to make mortgage payments despite working about 50-hour weeks at Pizza Hut and Burger King. "We're not asking for the world. We want to make enough to make a decent living. We deserve better. If they respect us and pay us and treat us right, it'll lift up the whole economy."

Enter American labor unions. In 2009 the AFL stated, “Current U.S. immigration policy is a blueprint for employer manipulation and abuse, and both new American immigrants and American-born workers are suffering the consequences." Further, their mission statement on illegal immigration is at odds with the need for fast food workers to restrict the labor pool:

“A realistic and expeditious mechanism whereby aspiring citizens in America can get right with the law and earn a clear and direct path to citizenship. With 11 million aspiring Americans willing to fully contribute to our nation and economy, it is in our country's best interest to secure a road map to citizenship without unreasonable barriers.”

The AFL supports legalization for illegal aliens, falsely asserting that legalization would secure America's borders:

“The most realistic way to secure our borders and restore respect for law is to provide an opportunity for aspiring citizens to legalize their status and to have safe and orderly channels for future immigrants to enter our nation legally.”

Their work on behalf of “aspiring citizens” (illegal aliens) will only prolong or increase surplus labor among fast food workers driving down wages. We need to let both fast food workers and the rank and file of the various unions know about the need to decrease immigrant and refugee labor in the fast food industry.

Here are some things you might do to help fast food workers increase wages:

  1. Use the need to reduce unfair competition in fast food labor as a talking point in asking congresspersons, federal and state, to increase detection and deportation of illegal aliens.
  2. Talk to your friend in the Union about the need for labor organizations to draw a hard line on immigration reduction (legal and illegal). Tell them to look for leadership that will use political money to support candidates who will deport illegal aliens.
  3. Talk to fast food workers in your area about the problem and have them make their cooperation with any labor organization contingent upon tough anti-illegal immigration policy.

Kareem Sparks, father of two says it well, "I'm grateful they gave me an opportunity to feed my family and put food on the table, but it's not enough," he says. Sparks supplements his income with a second job as a security guard, earning about $8 an hour. Together, he says, he brings home about $1,000-$1,100 every two weeks and needs food stamps to survive.” Lets help fast food workers to improve there standard of living. We should commit to a lower number of immigrants and refugees in America.