By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – A few dozen fast food workers, backed by national labor organizers, took to the streets of Madison on Thursday calling for a wage hike that would likely cost the jobs of some of the thousands who, on this day, chose not to strike.
It was part of a national labor walk-out targeting the fast food industry where protesters called for a $15 an hour minimum wage, more than double the current $7.25 federal minimum wage, along with health care benefits and union representation.
If the protesters get their way, some would soon find their way to the unemployment line.
“We would definitely go out of business, no question about that,” said Edmund Halibi, owner of The Italian House restaurant in Janesville. “I don’t think any small mom and pop can sustain $15 an hour. We can’t even sustain $10 an hour.”
Pete Hanson, vice president of public affairs for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, echoed Halibi’s sentiments.
The alternative for most businesses, Hanson said, would be to “cut jobs, raise prices or both.”
The protesters, two from Dunkin Donuts, a couple from Culver’s, Arby’s, Burger King and McDonald’s, gathered at 6 a.m. outside the Dunkin Donuts on Park Street. They made their way up Park stopping to protest at each fast food restaurant along the way, chanting “Raise up, Madison, raise up, 15!”
“I’m out here today because I certainly do not get paid enough to do the things I do,” said Gage Jordan, a shift-manager at Dunkin’ Donuts.
Jordan said he makes $2 an hour more than the minimum wage and $1.25 an hour more than he made when he was hired nine months ago. He makes more than $13 an hour for overtime, he said.
And while his boss has promised him another raise when he becomes food safety certified, Jordan said he took to the streets to fight for other lower wage workers.
“They certainly can replace me ‘like this’ probably,” said Jordan, snapping his fingers. “To me this is just a job. I’m just their employee. I can go somewhere else to get a job. I’m a certified mason and I graduated from Job Corps so I don’t have to be doing this. … They can replace me, I’m not worried about it.”
The group’s members were padded by labor organizers wearing green American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees shirts or black Raise Up Wisconsin t-shirts. Raise Up Wisconsin sprang from the months-old Raise Up Milwaukee, a group of local fast-food workers and labor organizers who participated in previous walk-outs.
Raise Up Milwaukee, in turn, formed the Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee to file complaints against fas- food restaurants with the National Labor Relations Board.
Michael Lauer is president of Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee and executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, the Service Employees International Union-funded labor front group that organized the protests. Department of Labor financial records show the SEIU paid Lauer $130,792 for his role as city coordinator in 2012.
SEIU previously has said they’re providing financial and technical support for the protests, including staff to train organizers in each of the cities. The state AFL-CIO also signed on as a protest sponsor, according to a Wisconsin Jobs Now news release.
“You have to keep in mind, these are not organic protests,” Hanson said. “These are mostly workers that were recruited to do this basically by big labor at the national level who are trying to score a political victory.”
“Unions are paying worker centers to do what unions are not permitted to do,” Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote in an op-ed at RealClearMarkets.com. “On August 29, worker centers will use demonstrations, lobbying, and community organizing to bully and shame employees into submission, tactics that unions are not permitted to use.”
Hanson said the SEIU was trying to score political points attacking the restaurant industry when “more than 70 percent of U.S. workers who are earning the minimum wage don’t work in the food service industry.”
“The restaurant industry is a tough industry to survive and prosper in,” Hanson told Wisconsin Reporter. “There are low profit margins. The cost of labor is huge. Take all the sales of your restaurant, 33 percent is spent on labor. If the cost of labor is forced up by the government, economically, it would cause a lot of problems. For the employees that SEIU purports to be helping with (the minimum wage increase), a lot of them would be hurt by it.”
According to a statement released by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, a 2007 industry survey showed that 77 percent of restaurants nationwide either raised prices or cut jobs after the 2007 federal minimum wage increase.
“This is a guaranteed equation for disaster for small businesses,” Halibi said. “If we’re looking for jobs, we can’t impose more financial hardships on small business.”
Sure, McDonald’s could make it, he said, but then we’d all be eating at McDonald’s.
“In reality, we small business people would all be walking on a cliff,” Halibi said “If they’re going to pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour in reality; I would close down my restaurant and go work for $15 an hour. But I know prices will go right up. $15 an hour 3 years from now is going to be 7 or 8 bucks today.”
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