One of the more hotly debated topics in the past few years has been the level of the minimum wage. Since 2009, the minimum wage in the U.S. has been set at $7.25 per hour. Recently, however, there has been general public sentiment that in today’s economy $7.25 per hour cannot possibly be a living wage: thus the Fight for $15 per hour was born.
The Fight For $15 is a community of workers who openly protest the minimum wage. While the movement started out as a small collection of upset New York fast food workers, they now profess to have reached over 300 cities on six continents, officially becoming an international protest group. And while their efforts are valiant, and justifiable, they may have unintentionally made matters worse for themselves.
McDonald’s, the movement’s primary target, seems to have found a way around paying their workers anything at all: by installing self-service kiosks. McDonald’s has finally entered the 21st century, adopting self-service “Create Your Own Taste” touch screen kiosks. These kiosks allow the customer to, as they suggest, create a completely customized burger. Users can choose the type of bun, toppings, sauces and patty that goes into their carefully crafted burger, adding a level of customization that has not been seen before. And from what some reports suggest, the kiosks are working tremendously. The food served is fresh, fashionably and most importantly, fast. While this brand new implementation of technology to enhance the user experience is most certainly welcomed by many, it poses many dangerous implications.
With the introduction of technology and humanity’s growing reliance on robotics and hardware, the need for actual human beings is decreasing; nowhere is this more evident than in the fast food industry. With so many complaints regarding workload and compensation, the fast food industry is eager to find more effective ways to provide customer service while keeping labor costs down. One of the easiest ways to do that is through the use of technology and robotics. Should McDonald’s new kiosk take off, it could potentially cost thousands of workers their jobs.
The announcement comes only two years after then CEO Don Thompson publicly stated that the company would support a minimum wage hike therefore giving workers hope. Under new CEO Steve Easterbrook, however, the company has made some radical changes, mainly in its ingredients and sources of food, as opposed to wage changes.
McDonald’s is not the only fast food company looking into automated customer service. Panera Bread has already implemented self-serve kiosks in about half of their restaurants, with the remaining half to receive kiosks by the end of the year. Wendy’s is poised to follow suit. Unfortunately, the growing push for higher minimum wage could force fast food chains to cut labor costs, and opt for the cost savings of automated kiosks.
Industry leaders are taking note of these changes. In a recent interview with Business Insider, CEO of Carl’s Jr. and Hardees, Andy Puzder stated, “if you’re making labor more expensive, and automation less expensive — this isn’t rocket science.”
The push for higher minimum wage can have other negative impacts as well. While multi-billion dollar companies such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s can afford to install automated kiosks, other, smaller companies will be forced to adapt in other ways. In order to keep up with higher wages, these smaller businesses may need to drastically layoff employees or, in some severe cases, close completely. And while this may sound sensationalized, it is very much a reality. According to Business Insider, after many voted for higher a minimum wage in this year’s election, several local businesses have struggled to cope with the cost increase.
With so many companies prepared to replace human beings with technology, the push for a higher a minimum wage could force these companies’ hands, leaving thousands, potentially even more, without jobs. And with more and more workers from different occupations joining Fight For $15’s ranks, even more industries could follow suit and impact far more people than initially anticipated. This is definitely a serious issue that I will continue to cover as it unfolds.