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Fast food workers vie for higher wages

Matt Martin/WSKG

Cities across the country saw strikes Thursday as part of a campaign by fast food workers to raise the federal minimum wage.

Walkouts were planned in at least 100 cities in support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, roughly $15,000 per year for a full-time job.

The movement faces strong opposition both within and outside the fast food industry. The fast food industry claims that raising wages would be difficult without bumping up the prices on their menus too.

But Richard Burkhauser, professor of public policy at Cornell University, says there’s a danger to raising the minimum wage that goes beyond pricier burgers.

“I think if you want to feel good rather than do good, then a minimum wage policy is the policy for you. It sounds good, people claim that it’s going to help the working poor, but in reality we know that that just doesn’t happen. In fact, it kills jobs,” Burkhauser says.

He says new pay levels would likely see staff cuts by employers.

Changing workforce

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell, says the changing makeup of the fast food workforce negates that argument.

“Those models are built on assuming that these are teenagers, and these are not teenagers, the average age is 28 or higher.”

In fact, Bronfenbrenner says, raising the minimum wage would actually assist job growth and the economy.

“These are not kids. The workers who work in these places are adults with families, and so when you raise their wages they are going to get off welfare, get off food stamps, and move into the economy.”

Protesters on the streets upstate

About 30 protesters lined the sidewalk outside a McDonalds in Binghamton Thursday, as part of the nationwide campaign. 

They weren’t employees of fast food restaurants, but members of the progressive group, Citizen Action New York. And they had the same message as Bronfenbrenner.

“The minimum wage is way too low.   People can’t even afford to buy food and pay their rent,” said protester Bonnie Wilson. 

“Kids aren’t working in these restaurants any more.  They are adults, adults that are trying to feed a family or even making their rent.  And it is important that they get a decent wage,” fellow protester Orazio Salati said . 

Support for wage hikes has been more successful at the state level, 19 states and D.C. currently have minimum wages higher than the federal level.

New York state’s minimum wage remains at $7.25, but it’s scheduled to rise to $9.00 per hour by the end of 2015.