Ignorance is a brotherhood in fast-food strikes

| Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Organized labor, as per usual, is reaching the annual apogee of its intellectual darkness and operational dishonesty this Labor Day weekend.

Fast-food workers in scores of U.S. cities staged a series of strikes on Thursday. It's the latest effort to raise their wages from the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour to $15. Not by market forces but by government fiat. Pity those strikers suckered into walking out and/or engaging in work disruptions, for they know not the laws of economics or the law of unintended consequences.

And far from the ruse pushed by many that last week's walkouts, the fourth since last November, were some kind of grassroots effort fertilized by a groundswell of the aggrieved indignant, this clearly was an attempt by organized labor to increase its flagging ranks, never mind that, in the end, it will have the exact opposite effect.

More on that later. But ignorance indeed is a brotherhood.

Fast-food jobs, particularly those on the front lines — the counter folks, those who take your order at the drive-thru, the cooks — are entry-level jobs. They have a high churn rate. Because they pay so little? Not necessarily. It's because they serve as the first rung on the employment ladder. These jobs feature a relatively small skill set but inculcate in those holding them the discipline to work. That is, they teach people how to work.

Some wash out. But many others learn those skills, increase their employment value and begin their climb up the employment and wage ladder.

Liberals, “progressives,” socialists and the stupid argue that this is an archaic notion. But since when is learning how to work obsolete? Since the “social justice” crowd gained renewed footing in the growing equal outcomes world.

To that end, you might have heard that “community groups” are behind the effort to bring that “social justice” to the fast-food industry.

But as Rick Berman of the Center for Union Facts has documented, many of these organizations are labor union front groups that are exempt from federal labor law.

“Many of them are registered as charities, nonprofits and other tax-exempt entities,” Mr. Berman writes. “This legal loophole is the key to their existence: It frees them from many of the regulations established in both the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.”

Such as not being allowed to block cashiers, padlocking doors and forcing restaurants to close, as happened at some places last week, Bill McMorris writes in The Washington Free Beacon.

Additionally, many of the same critics dispute assertions that higher wage floors lead to fewer jobs. But the facts are indisputable — raising the cost of labor reduces the number of laborers and that typically hurts entry-level workers the most (and among them, minorities).

So, what might happen in the fast-food industry if labor's front groups win the day? As Michael Saltsman, research director of the Employment Policies Institute, sees it, “a $15 minimum wage will only hasten the service industry's move toward automation and self-service, where the customer (or even a computer) performs a task that used to be part of an employee's job description.” (Think Sheetz.)

Can robotic burger flippers and computerized ordering be far behind? Actually, they're here, Mr. Saltsman notes. At $15 an hour, the flipper device would pay for itself “in a matter of months,” he says. Touch-screen ordering terminals are featured at 7,000 McDonald's locations in Europe (where wage floors are higher) and starting to appear here.

Economic ignorance long has bred union impudence that has birthed joblessness. But, then again, wiping with the water and washing with the towel long has been Big Labor's forte.

Colin McNickle is Trib Total Media's director of editorial pages (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

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