Friday, December 6, 2013

Protesting your way out of a job?

I'm cynically amused to read about demonstrations across the country this week, calling for a minimum wage of $15 per hour for fast food workers.  If there's a better way for those workers to persuade their bosses to look for a cheaper solution, I don't know what it might be.  Consider:

  • As mentioned here before, burgers can now be produced by a fully automated system;
  • As mentioned here before, fruit smoothies can now be produced by a fully automated system;
  • More and more restaurant chains (most notably Chilis and Applebees) have announced the introduction of tablet-computer-based ordering systems at their tables, putting the jobs of many waiters and waitresses at risk.

Instead of addressing these threats to their jobs, the demonstrators are calling for an approximate doubling of their wages.  If I were a fast food franchise owner or investor, that would be all the encouragement I needed to replace as many workers as possible with these automated systems.  To call these protests 'short-sighted' is the understatement of the year . . .



Divemedic said...

Not only that, but if you put the burger machine in a location where people can watch their sandwich being made, the coolness factor will draw in customers.
Another added benefit to these machines is the reduced kitchen space needed. With restaurant space construction costing $300 per square foot or more, this machine could save thousands in construction costs.

Chris said...

Well, the majority of the folks participating in these protests are not the kind of people that have a capacity for thinking ahead. Or even thinking very much. To expect them to understand the economics of their situation is optimistic.

Dirk said...

I'm no economist, but I think I can see where this will go if it happens.

Sure, give them $15 an hour, and watch the prices of everything produced by minimum wage workers instantly double, or close to it. Watch how many minimum wage workers will suddenly be seen as surplus, especially the low-performers who were already on the bubble.

Watch how other industries will be forced to raise their pay levels to retain good workers, because why would someone want to work at a position requiring more skill and intelligence for just a bit more than what has now become minimum wage. And then watch the ripple effect in rising wages, resulting in rising prices for pretty much everything else.

And then, as you said, watch as business owners embrace automation, resulting in ever more minimum wage earners being displaced, and the few remaining employees have their jobs reduced to supervising the machines and fixing minor problems, and making repair calls for larger problems.

This rise in minimum wage might provide a very short-term boost in the buying power of minimum wage earners, but before long, they'll be right where they were in terms of buying least those who are still employed at all.

As Chris said, not much capacity for thinking ahead.

The Raving Prophet said...

Gotta love it when the same people who think making gasoline more expensive (via government intervention through taxation) in order to curb consumption don't realize that making labor more expensive (via government intervention through a higher mandatory minimum) will also curb consumption of labor.

Or, in short words and simple phrases for those who can't quite grasp it, make workers more expensive, business will buy fewer of them.

They'd rather buy a robot... no mandatory health insurance, no ever increasing price tag. And heck, if I can input my own order via touchscreen (or even by my smartphone for pickup at the local fast food spot), then a robot can make my order, and the only thing that will be needed is for one single person to put the food in a bag and hand it to me. Where three or four folks were once involved, it will be one.

More teenagers out of jobs, with no money and plenty of free time. I can't imagine how that can possibly backfire.

Anonymous said...

Minimum wage jobs are the starting point of many, if not most people. Most people start at the bottom and work their way up. The better you work the faster you rise. I hear these people demanding more money, and watch politicians jump on the band wagon (They at least know better) Washington D.C. insisted WallMart agree to pay employees a minimum of $15.00 hr. in order to open a new store in D.C. WallMart declined and cancelled the new location.
The City pays many new starts 10 to 11 dollars and hour.
No news media outlet mentioned this.
Paul in Texas