What Working in Fast Food Could Be Like

Kenneth QuinnellImagine you have a job where you get the full 40-hour workweek you want. You have affordable health care that meets your needs. You get five weeks paid vacation, paid maternity and paternity leave, a pension and overtime pay for working after 6 p.m. or on Sunday. You get your work schedule four weeks in advance so you can plan your life. And your employer can’t send you home early without pay because business is slow. You have a union that is well-organized and fights to make sure your rights are protected. After you pay your rent and bills, you can still put some money in your savings account, and you still have money left over to go out and have a nice evening. And you know that if times get tough, that savings you have been able to put away will help you through.

Now imagine that job is a fast-food job.

That’s the reality in Denmark, where fast-food employees are paid $20 an hour. And the country hasn’t fallen into anarchy, giant fast-food chains haven’t gone out of business and working families make enough money to live their lives without worrying about being one paycheck away from poverty.

Now imagine a bunch of rich people on TV and radio telling you that you can’t have that Danish scenario because Denmark is “different” and “smaller,” but with no explanation as to how it is different or how being a smaller country makes it possible to pay workers more.

That’s the reality in the United States where corporate interests fight against paying fast-food workers a living wage with vague excuses and warnings that never seem to pan out. They haven’t even really made the case that the fast-food companies in Denmark are less profitable. Everyone says they “assume” that Danish fast-food companies are less profitable, but no one shows the numbers. Certainly McDonald’s and Burger King know how much their locations in Denmark make in profits.  Why are they so mum on the topic?

“We see from Denmark that it’s possible to run a profitable fast-food business while paying workers these kinds of wages,” said John Schmitt, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The critics are right about one thing, fast food is more expensive in Denmark. A Big Mac, for instance, costs about 80 cents more. But when the person buying the Big Mac gets paid $12 more an hour (on average), they can afford that 80 cents. And health care. And child care. And clothes for their kids.

This blog originally appeared on AFL-CIO.org on November 1, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/What-Working-in-Fast-Food-Could-Be-Like

About the author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.