Time for 'Big Mac' statesmanship
The Washington Post, August 14, 2013
The flurry of one-day strikes by low-earning fast-food workers has created an opportunity to transform the national debate about wages—and if a fast-food CEO doesn't have the imagination to seize it, President Obama should do so himself when he resumes his middle-class road show next week.
Front-line workers at outlets such as McDonald's, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken have staged walkouts recently in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Milwaukee and Flint, Mich. These protests, funded in part by the creative Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have garnered headlines and given voice to hard-working Americans who can't possibly make ends meet on $9 or $10 an hour, let alone on the $7.25 federal minimum wage.
The corporate response to such protests follows a standard playbook. Offer soothing nostrums about the organization's commitment to employees. Add facts about the higher-earning career path (a small minority of) front-line workers have built. Let the trade association explain that fast-food chains have thin profit margins and argue that wage hikes could lead to reduced hiring.
In short: stand firm, lay low and hope things blow over. Call it Risk Aversion 101.
That strategy may once have worked, but it won't make the issue go away today. That's because these strikes take place against the backdrop of widespread anxiety in an era in which global competition and rapid technological changes have put the middle class at risk. Four years into a "recovery," we've still got 20