The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is known for its fight for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. The union chooses to ignore the fact that these are entry-level workers learning the basics of holding a job–showing up on time, being conscientious, treating people with respect, etc. Recruiting these people into the SEIU provides a larger base for union dues (and bigger donations to Democratic candidates), but where has the battle gotten the workers?
The article points out a few of the unintended consequences:
Let’s start with automation. In 2013, when the Fight for $15 was still in its growth stage, I and others warned that union demands for a much higher minimum wage would force businesses with small profit margins to replace full-service employees with costly investments in self-service alternatives. At the time, labor groups accused business owners of crying wolf. It turns out the wolf was real.
Earlier this month, McDonald’s announced the nationwide roll-out of touchscreen self-service kiosks. In a video the company released to showcase the new customer experience, it’s striking to see employees who once would have managed a cash register now reduced to monitoring a customer’s choices at an iPad-style kiosk.
…Of course, not all businesses have the capital necessary to shift from full-service to self-service. And that brings me to my next correct prediction–that a $15 minimum wage would force many small businesses to lay off staff, seek less-costly locations, or close altogether.
…The out-of-state labor groups who funded these initiatives aren’t shedding tears over the consequences. Like their Soviet-era predecessors who foolishly thought they could centrally manage prices and business operations to fit an idealistic worldview, economic reality keeps ruining the model of all gain and no pain. This brings me to my last correct prediction, which is that the Fight for $15 was always more a creation of the left-wing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) rather than a legitimate grassroots effort. Reuters reported last year that, based on federal filings, the SEIU had spent anywhere from $24 million to $50 million on the its Fight for $15 campaign, and the number has surely increased since then.
This money has bought the union a lot of protesters and media coverage. You can expect more of it on November 29. But the real faces of the Fight for $15 are the young people and small business owners who have had their futures compromised. Those faces are not happy ones.
I suspect that over time many of the businesses involved would have switched to kiosks anyway, but the drive for $15 an hour definitely helped speed up the process. The fact that the SEIU was able to gather (or pay) protestors and that the news covered this story in a positive light is evidence that we are not teaching people basic economics in school. Somehow we have lost sight of the fact that businesses are in business to make a profit. When businesses are no longer profitable, they go out of business. In this case even the businesses that could afford to automate cut back on their workforce because of increasing labor costs. This is another example of shortsightedness on the part of the unions and of the law of unintended consequences.