[This post is adapted from one I wrote yesterday for rebutblogs4victory.wordpress.com.]
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?