Are You Ready For $43 Per Hour Fast Food Workers?

There is this new, hip burger joint in Detroit called Moo Cluck Moo (all right, it’s a SmashBurger knock-off) which is becoming famous for paying its workers a minimum of $15 per hour.

OK, it’s not $43/hr, but the title was to prove a point and ask a question. If you haven’t eaten at one of these new burger joints, they’re great! I mean great, they’re great if you love a great burger, fries and shake and a “fast food” bill of $50 for a family of four!

BTW, the sweet potato fries at SmashBurger will be on my death row/final meal menu.

But really, how much should a fast food worker be paid? Is $15/hr really a living wage?

How well do you live on $15/hr?

Well, $15/hr equates to about $31,000 before taxes. If you take out taxes, health insurance co-pays, etc., for argument’s sake, let’s say that $31,000 is now $22,000. And $22,000 is fairly realistic, right?

So, $22,000 is about $1,800 per month. Let’s break down the expenses:

  • Crappy apartment – $600/month (Editor’s note: Tim lives in Michigan. Your perception of the going rent for a crappy apartment may vary);
  • Crappy car payment – $250/month;
  • Crappy car gas – $200/month;
  • Crappy car insurance – $100/month;
  • iPhone 5 – $100/month (you know this is true!);
  • Crappy apartment utilities (electric, gas, cable) – $150/month;
  • Food (other than your fast food meals you get while working) – $300/month.

That’s $1,700. Let’s say we’ll leave the extra $100 for emergencies, shall we?

Is this living?

Why this is not realistic

Now, let’s look at it from McDowell’s standpoint (the fast food place Eddie Murphy works at in the movie Coming to America). Unlike their “fast food” friends at Moo Cluck Moo – where the average check for a family of four is north of $40 — the average check for a family of four to eat at McDowell’s is probably closer to $25. That extra $15 per check at Moo Cluck Moo does a lot. It definitely makes it easier to pay $15/hr.

My point isn’t that we should be paying fast food workers more. Someone choosing a career in the fast food arts shouldn’t expect to make a “living wage,” they should expect to make a wage you can’t live on.

I love that Moo Cluck Moo is pushing the envelope in paying service workers, and showing others that it can be done, on a small scale. Can places like McDowell’s do it?

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They could. Are you willing to pay $15-$20 more per meal for your family to eat at McDowell’s? No, you’re not.

A living wage is possible, if you pay more too

You will at Moo Cluck Moo, because it’s cool and hip and good. But you can’t do that all the time. It’s not sustainable on your living wage as a teacher, or accountant. So, you sometimes have to go the cheaper route and eat at places like McDowell’s.

Simple economics will tell us that selling $.99 Double Cheeseburgers does not allow you to pay your hourly staff $15/hr and stay in business. Charge $5 for that Double Cheeseburger, and you can now pay $15/hr wages. But, you will also have a drastic decrease in customers, so you’ll have to lay off most of your staff. But those who remain will certainly be happy making $15/hr!

You can’t have it Fast, Good, and Cheap. You must give up something.

Want McDowell’s to pay their workers a “living wage?” Show them you won’t go away in droves and eat elsewhere when they double their prices.

You won’t do that. If you won’t change, why should they?

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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1 Comment on “Are You Ready For $43 Per Hour Fast Food Workers?

  1. I can’t quite tell if you’re really pro salary increase, or against it. However if the employees getting $15 an hour STILL can’t expect to live very well, imagine the poor folks working for $8 & change at typical fast food places. However, I don’t agree that people working in that field shouldn’t expect to earn a living wage. After all, many of them work hard (like sweating their butts off hard) & certainly put in the hours.

    And for some people, those kinds of jobs are the only ones they can obtain at the time. My sister has no car & lives in a small town, where all of the “good jobs” are too far to be obtainable. And while for years, she was eligible to move up to managing the restaurant she works at; she couldn’t qualify without owning a car. However, she can’t afford a car on the meager wage they pay her. Meanwhile she struggles to just pay rent & has NO health coverage. This is exactly the type of “screwed up the rear” catch 22, many fast food employees find themselves in.

    One could argue that if she preformed better in school, she would certainly have more opportunities. But that isn’t necessarily true, because these days we know there are many people with impressive resumes, who find themselves working the fryer. Never mind the joke on our future graduates, that is the current “education for life debt” system we have in place.

    So in summation, a family of four can b*tch about paying $50 to eat at Moo Cluck Moo, versus the $25 at McDonalds. At least, they can until one of those children needs to get a job at a fast food restaurant. And they can get one at $15 an hour, instead of $8.50. I think the source behind a lot of this dismissive attitude, some people have towards fast food workers, is that they are somehow less-than the rest of us. Some people look at themselves & their families & they may have some notable level of success in their lives; so they think “We only go there to EAT, not WORK”. And they behave like the people who do need to work there, only do so because they are lower, or inferior & as such, should not expect reasonable compensation.

    What a sad thought that is. Those people sweat & ache & dream just like anyone else. And often times they started their lives with less, with no choice in the matter. At the end of the day, when life beats them down, they may loose hope just like you or I. Yet perhaps they do less so…because they never had much to begin with.
    We need to be more thoughtful, even of the person serving us a burger. And for the record, the prices may be a bit higher at Moo Cluck Moo, but those burgers look WAY better than at McDonalds.

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