Teachable Moment: Unions Pay Low Wages To Protest Low Wages

Remember all those people agitating for more unemployment and/or inflation last Thursday? Turns out, many (most? all?) of the ones who didn’t show up for work were getting paid.

From CNN Money:

Karina McClain, a cashier at fast food chain Checkers in New York City, didn’t show up for her shift on Thursday.

Instead, the 22-year-old joined about 100 other people outside of a Brooklyn Wendy’s restaurant calling for an hourly wage increase to $15 an hour. She was holding a sign that read “Raise pay, live better.”

“I have bills to pay and we don’t get enough money,” said McClain, who makes the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and works 20 hours a week. Missing out on a day’s pay would be hard for McClain, who can barely pay for diapers and clothes for her five-month old daughter Kamayah.

But on Thursday, McClain was able to afford missing a day at work, because organizers behind the protests compensate workers who walk off work.

McClain said union-backed groups, like Fast Food Forward and Fight for 15, were paying her about $50, or a day’s wage, to be at the protest.

“If they weren’t paying me, I couldn’t afford to be here,” she said.

Other workers at the protest and across the country confirmed that they were also getting paid similar amounts. Organizers say that workers like McClain are gathering in 100 cities Thursday making similar demands of their employers.

Why didn’t the unions pay her more? There were probably a couple of reasons. In the first place, they needed to get as many protestors to walk off their jobs and hold signs as possible that day. If they had started paying more, then they would have had fewer protesters.

Also, there is a fairness issue. If they had paid some people more, how would that be fair to all the other people who want to protest and were willing to do so for less money? Granted, the union has no obligation to pay protestors, but if they want to spread good will and loyalty they need to include as many people as possible. If it got around that the union was only picking a few and paying them a lot more than they needed to, leaving others with no choice but to work that day’s shift for minimum wage or else strike for free, I think that some workers would begin to resent the union.

So there were good reasons for the unions to only pay McClain the same amount they would have received from McDonald’s for that day’s work.

But what about McDonald’s?

They are trying to get people to buy their food.  If they are required to pay more, then they will have to hire fewer people or else raise the price of food. If they raise the price of food then customers will suddenly find that Burger King tastes better and better.

If a general minimum wage law is passed, then McDonald’s won’t have to worry about competition but they will still lose business as fewer people eat at fast food restaurants in general. Thus, many stores will close. Just so we’re clear: restaurants that cease to exist also cease to employ anyone to work at them.

Of course, McDonald’s might automate and hire fewer workers. So what would that mean? It would mean that many people who are willing and able to work for less money can no longer work at McDonald’s.

So the question is: Is it fair for McDonald’s to refuse to hire many people who are willing to work for minimum wage in order to hire a few people at the higher wage?

Is it fair to make the average lower- or middle-class family unable to eat at McDonald’s as often as they do now?

If it is OK for unions to allocate their resources in a rational manner, why isn’t it OK for McDonald’s to do so? Is producing cheap, fast, desirable food at a price that people are willing to pay really such a criminal enterprise?