National protest sparks conversation about minimum wage

Megan Reed, Campus Carrier Editor-in-Chief
Chelsea Hoag, Campus Carrier Managing Editor 

Tens of thousands of fast food workers protested for higher wages on April 15 in more than 200 cities nationwide for what they call the “Fight for 15.”

July 29, 2013 protest at McDonald’s in New York City.

Their campaign is aimed to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Labor activists and fast food workers were joined by people working in home care assistance and child-care, airport workers, Walmart employees and many others working low-wage jobs.

Like any city in America, fast food restaurants saturate the Rome area with more than 40 fast food restaurants.

According to a living wage calculator developed by MIT professor Amy K Glasmeier in the Department of Urban Studies, the living wage for one adult without children in Rome is $8.23.

Some Berry students said they disagree and had a positive experience working in the fast food industry.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Spencer has worked at a Chick-fil-A in Auburn, Ala. since she was 14 years old. Her father is the general manager of the restaurant, and she said working there has been a positive, “family-oriented” experience.

“I love coming back there and working there,” Spencer said. “It’s something that I will always cherish, being able to work there since I was so young.”

She said the job was stressful when she first started.

“It’s very fast-paced. You have to know what to do, when to do it at the right time,” she said. “It took about two or three months, but once I got there, it was very easy to go in and start work … it’s a very good atmosphere.”

Spencer said employees protesting for a $15 wage are “kind of ridiculous.”

“I’ve worked (at Chick-fil-A) since I was 14. I started at minimum wage,” she said. “I have worked my way up. I am now a manager there, and so I worked to get more money … it kind of upsets me that people are asking to start at $15 per hour because I didn’t get to do that, and I feel that it’s unfair to a lot of people, especially people who have CEO jobs who get paid a high amount that fast food employees would get $15.”

Freshman Chimara Good, who worked at a Zaxby’s in Acworth, Ga. for a year, said the minimum wage should be increased but $15 might be unrealistic.

Like any city in America, fast food restaurants saturate the Rome area with more than
40 fast food restaurants.

Many people believe that fast food is an entry-level position exclusively worked by younger people, but a Center of Economic and Policy Research report in August 2013 found people ages 25-54 hold the largest share of fast-food workers jobs in the United States, and 11 percent of workers are earning minimum wage.

“I do think that it is unfair that a high school student who doesn’t have much to pay for and doesn’t have any dependents gets the same wage as those who are in college or who do have dependents and need this job as a salary,” Good said. “It would be better if minimum wage varied on your requirements, just like taxes.”

Good said her older Zaxby’s coworkers often left for higher paying jobs, so the restaurant was always training new employees who were often younger and less experienced.

“A lot of times training would have to be done during the (lunch and dinner) rush, and things would get backed up,” she said.

Sophomore Matthew Robinson worked at a Chick-fil-A in Atlanta for four years. He said his job was also stressful at times.

“Whenever lunch hour was, it was always very busy with a lot of things going on at once. But after a while, you get used to it,” he said.

Robinson said raising fast food employees’ wages to $15 an hour would be “a big mistake.”

“The end result would probably be that a lot of students, or student-age workers, wouldn’t be able to get jobs,” he said. “(Restaurants) would be a little pickier about who they get because they’re having to pay so much more. Also, of course there’s only so much they can pay employees.”

Assistant professor of economics Alexander Salter also thinks raising the minimum wage would not be best.

“Raising the minimum wage changes the wage employers are forced to pay, but does nothing to change worker productivity,” Salter said. “If employers are forced to pay workers $15 per hour—a wage that turns out to yield a higher yearly wage than dental assistants and emergency medical technicians earn—those employers will respond by only hiring workers that can create at least $15 per hour in output.”

Salter said this means fewer workers would be employed, or fewer hours would be worked, than otherwise.

“Given that securing entry-level, low-wage jobs are frequently the way people begin to climb the socioeconomic ladder, this amounts to sawing off the bottom rung, a decidedly bad idea that disproportionately hurts minorities and others of lower-than-average socioeconomic status,” Salter said.

Atlanta has been one of the largest hubs and meeting grounds for protesters around the nation. A Facebook page, called “ATL Raise Up,” states that “a $15 minimum wage is the quickest, most direct route to empower working people, and directly intervene into the labor market on the side of the workers. We cannot allow people to say that $15 is too much, when the focus should be on how ridiculous the current minimum wage is.”

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