Communists and Fast Food

31 Jul

[This post is adapted from one I wrote yesterday for]

On Monday, the conservative website The Gateway Pundit posted an article by Jim Hoft about the recent fast food worker strikes and protests, entitled “Young Commies Demand Corporations ‘Quit Stealing From Us’ and Double the Pay.”

The very first sentence of the Pundit article (as well as the title) describes the workers as “young communists.” It implies that they view their minimum wage as “stealing” by their employer. Regarding Shenita Simon, the subject of a Fox News interview and a New York Times article, Hoft states, “It’s obvious from the interview that Shenita is a community organizer and not a fast-food worker.” Of course, he offers no substantiation for this claim, which isn’t surprising considering his track record, one that has earned him the title of “the dumbest man on the Internet”. As usual with Hoft’s pieces, there’s more to the story than he wants his readers to know.

First, contrary to The Gateway Pundit’s hyperbolic lede, attempting to obtain a higher working wage does not make one a communist. In fact, it is quite in the American tradition. If, as a conservative or libertarian, you believe that businesses are under no obligation to pay more than they can get away with, then likewise you must accept that workers are free to seek the highest wages that they squeeze out of their employers. It’s the free market at work. If these fast-food worker actions result in higher wages for themselves, then good for them.

The Gateway Pundit also seems confused about the issue of “stealing,” implying that “stealing” is just the worker’s misguided way of expressing the fact that they should be earning more than minimum wage. While Ms. Simon isn’t clear about this in the Fox News interview, the issue of “stealing” has to do with wage theft, in which employers illegally withhold wages for overtime, or illegally pay employees less than minimum wage.

Last month the New York Times covered a hearing before the City Council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor in which fast-food workers gave testimony describing rampant wage theft by their employers. According to article, “[a] study issued last month by Fast Food Forward, a coalition of groups seeking to improve conditions for fast-food workers, found that about 80 percent of employees in the industry in New York City had experienced some form of wage theft in the past year.”

The Huffington Post also covered the hearing and reported:

New York’s council members are just the latest public officials to look into what labor advocates say is a wage-theft “crime wave” sweeping the country. In the past year, Texas, Kentucky and New Mexico have all cracked down on wage theft by passing new laws or strengthening old ones. Just this week, Oregon’s legislature approved a bill aimed at stopping wage theft in the construction sector. (An anti-wage theft bill in California, however, recently died in the legislature, after the Chamber of Commerce portrayed it as a job-killer.)

An extensive study of wage theft in 2009 found that of the more than 4,000 low-wage workers surveyed in three cities, 26 percent said they were paid less than minimum wage and 76 percent of those who worked more than 40 hours a week were not paid overtime.

According to that report and others, employers can steal from workers in a variety of ways: They can deprive workers of the legally required overtime pay rate of time-and-a-half; take illegal deductions from worker paychecks to cover the costs of meals and uniforms; pressure workers to take out the garbage or put away boxes before clocking in or after clocking out; and refuse to reimburse delivery workers who are robbed on the job.

In Ms. Simon’s case, The Times reported, “Often, she said, she finds her check is hours short. And when she works overtime, she receives two checks, each at straight time, as if she worked for two different employers rather than a single KFC across from Bargain Land on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn.”

The Huffington Post describes in more detail how employers do this. “Simon, the KFC worker, explained in detail one particular method her employer used to ensure she didn’t get overtime: After she worked 60 hours one week last year, she said, her manager paid her for just 40 hours and then added the remaining hours to Simon’s next three paychecks, so that she never totaled more than 40 hours per week. At the time, Simon says, she didn’t realize the practice was illegal.” This, and other similar practices, are examples of wage theft; that is, stealing from the employees. It’s no wonder they’re fed up.

Deriding the workers “communists” and ignoring the very real issue of wage theft are simply ways that The Gateway Pundit diminishes the workers as nothing but undeserving money grubbers.

I do find it odd how invested the right seems to be in preventing these workers from seeking a higher wage. It’s as if conservatives take it as a personal affront and resent the apparent audacity of the workers. I’ve never worked in a restaurant of any kind, nor have I ever been a member of a union, so perhaps I’m missing some perspective that conservatives possess. But I think the level of vitriol expressed by conservatives has more to do with them than the workers. One interviewer complained that if the workers are paid more, then he, the interviewer, would have to pay more than a dollar for his hamburger. Oh, the horror!

In his worldview, what’s important is that his hamburger costs as little as possible, no matter the consequences on others. It really boils down to “what’s good for me is good.” Conservatives seem to be truly threatened by the prospect of having to pay more than a buck for that burger. And make no mistake, a dollar for a hot burger, provided on demand, is a pretty good bargain. If the workers succeed and, as a consequence, the cost of that burger rises to two bucks, then people will decide whether to keep buying that burger. As conservatives are fond of telling us, the market will decide. And what could be more free market than that?


Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Politics, Progressive Thought


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9 responses to “Communists and Fast Food

  1. mitchethekid

    July 31, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Honestly, at times what these so called conservatives think leaves me speechless. They are not conservative at all, they are reactionary zealots. Anarchists who given a choice would eliminate the minimum wage all together. I hate to bring up the keenest economic mind of the 19th century, but this was what Marx was all about. Workers of the world Unite! Or as the tea people would spell it, Untie!

  2. Cluster

    August 1, 2013 at 5:01 am

    Wage theft should be a crime, should be prosecuted and employers should be punished, that being said, I have some different opinions – no surprise. First of all, I have been an employee, and an owner, but never a union member so let me give a perspective from that experience. #1, if as an employee I didn’t like my wage, I either looked for another job that paid more, or I inquired to management what needed to be done to be earn a higher wage. As an owner, I always paid above minimum wage, and a “good” employee was worth their weight in gold, and I paid them considerably more. In contrast to what I am sure many bleeding heart liberals believe, not every employee is the same. Many of them think they should be paid just to show up, and some don’t even do that too often. Others do the minimum amount of work required, thus minimum wage. The ones that go the extra mile, are compensated and promoted – it’s not a difficult equation. Here’s the other ironic part to this story – if progressives would champion a robust free enterprise system, there would be plenty of jobs to choose from. As it is, jobs are scarce, and wages are suppressed, so these “workers” have themselves to blame for supporting a party that believes in over regulating free enterprise and killing jobs.

    Finally, if the burger costs $2 more and business suffers as a result, the owner may close up shop, and then no one has a job. So again, unintended consequences come into play as they always do when progressives try to manage the market.

  3. Cluster

    August 1, 2013 at 5:07 am

    Also, we do have to stop demonizing people. Sometimes I feel like this country is just one big 8th grade, emotionally immature class. I feel for these workers and would like to see them have options to improve their earning power and skill sets. I also feel for the business owner, as most business owners are fair with their pay scales and are just trying to run a business. The pressures in business owners are immense and most employees just don’t understand that. So lets get to a place where we can discuss issues without believing the other side is evil. It would help.

    • watsonthethird

      August 1, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Cluster, I agree that demonization is generally not helpful. And I believe most business owners are fair, though clearly they all aren’t. Wage theft is a real thing. As far as your statement, “if progressives would champion a robust free enterprise system,” that sounds like the typical conservative griping about over-regulation and so on. It is a statement that sounds good but is backed by nothing — kind of like what you hear on Shawn Hannity. 🙂 Do you think that laws requiring overtime pay and so on are over-regulation? That minimum wage is over-regulation? What changes would be required to create a “robust free enterprise system”?

      As far as the cost of a product, there is a McDonalds nearby and a Jack In The Box 100 yards further. I noticed yesterday that Jack has signs advertising one of their big chicken sandwich meals for only $3.99. The McDonalds charges over $5. Should I expect the McDonalds to close up any time soon? A little further down the street is a Subway, where I can get a 6-inch sandwich and a drink for $4 or $5, depending on which sandwich I chose. Across the street is another sandwich chain that charges about $8 for a sandwich and a bag of chips. Pricing of product is not simply a reflection of the cost of production plus a fixed percent.

      • Cluster

        August 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm

        There are currently thousands upon thousands of pages of regulations on the books with more being added daily, so yes, a review of over regulation is badly in need, as is a top to bottom review of our bloated federal government. To think otherwise is just to ignore the elephant in the room. Overhead and volume also factor into the cost of product, pricing, margins, etc. there is also price elasticity built in, so yes, if the price of labor increase, and margins get thinner, the owner is the one who has to weigh the ramifications of raising prices and possibly losing some business. As a business owner, I will pay my employee what I think they are worth, if they don’t like it, they can go work somewhere else.

      • meursault1942

        August 1, 2013 at 2:58 pm

        And then there’s In-N-Out, where your cashiers and burger-flippers start at $10 an hour (or more–depending on location, starting wages can be more like $12 or $13 an hour), all full-time workers are immediately eligible for the company’s (pretty solid) health plan, and you can still get the traditional burger/fries/soda meal for around 7 bucks.

        In-N-Out is to McDonald’s as Costco is to Wal-Mart: A refutation of the notion that the business model requires dicking over your lowest-rung workers and paying them as little as possible.

        But there’s also a key difference between In-N-Out and McDonald’s: In-N-Out is not a publicly traded company and therefore doesn’t have shareholders barking at it to show tremendous growth each and every quarter.

      • watsonthethird

        August 1, 2013 at 3:56 pm

        In-N-Out is a very good example of a company that respects its employees and also offers value for the customer’s money.

        Cluster, as far as the “thousands upon thousands of pages of regulations,” sure, a review always makes sense. Is there a number of regulations that when exceeded, prevents a “robust free enterprise system”? I largely think this is a hollow argument. And makes for a good rant on Mark Levin’s show.

      • Cluster

        August 1, 2013 at 4:13 pm

        The duplication of regulations and government services is mind boggling and comes at an enormous cost, so a review is not just a good idea, it’s imperative

        Tell those workers in strike at McDonald’s to go apply at in and out – then when McDonald’s start losing good employees, they might raise their wages. It’s called supply and demand and works a lot better than extortion.

  4. mitchethekid

    August 1, 2013 at 7:15 am

    I’ve been on both sides as well and am sympathetic to the experience and perception of both. But I think it’s more a question of proportionality. In the mid 60’s a McDonalds hamburger cost .15 cents. What was minimum wage then? Over the past 30 yrs, CEO’s pay increased 127 times faster than the workers and today corporations, such as fast food reap untold millions of dollars in profit while paying less than a living wage to their most fundamental asset, the employee. (Although an argument could be made that the customer is the most important, but whatever.) I also think it’s a false argument to say that if a company has to charge more for their product then they risk going out of business and thus creating more unemployment. There are several solutions to this. Offer a better product or make less profit. If you offer a better product and therefore attract more customers, the profit will increase. There is a line in the movie Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie that came to mind. ” We don’t care how much it costs, just how much it makes. If it costs too much, we charge a penny more. Would you pay more to save a fish who thinks?” This was in reference to trawl fishing killing porpoises.

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