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DARRELL HUCKABY: Fast-food workers may price themselves out of a job

If you were so busy watching NASCAR and the PGA Open and waiting for college football season to get here this weekend that you didn’t pay attention to the national news, you might have missed the picketers in front of selected fast food franchises across the nation this weekend. Most were carrying signs demanding that McDonald’s — and other burger, taco and chicken joints — pay their workers a minimum of $15 per hour.

I’ll save you the math. That’s twice what most workers at those facilities are getting now, by the way.

Now understand this. I am all for fast food workers — or anybody who would rather get out and work for a living instead of sitting at home waiting for government handouts. I am also aware that no one can make a living at a minimum wage job. I am also adamant that dropping fries and working the window at McDonald’s — or Chick-fil-A or KFC — shouldn’t be a career path. It should — and is — a way for folks to make a little extra money while in school or after retirement or in between more substantive jobs, and the world really needs to see that for what it is.

The free market will pay what a person is worth and if a person makes himself or herself inexpendable (which is not a word but should be) by demonstrating special talents, skills or abilities, then that person will likely work him or herself into a larger paycheck. If not, a person with those extraordinary skills will be welcomed with open arms to a more attractive position at another establishment. That’s the way life works. It really is.

No one is entitled to anything just by existing or walking in the door. And before you start throwing stones, this is coming from someone who worked in a cotton mill for $1.60 an hour. Now the Department of Labor Statistics will tell you that a buck-sixty is the equivalent of 10.40 today — but you know what Mark Twain said. “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” Who is going to believe a government worker who tells you that unemployment is down because a million people quit trying to get a job?

The bottom line is this. The bottom line is what keeps McDonald’s and other fast food franchises in business. There is nothing wrong with that. If the government — or a union — forces Mickey D’s to double the wages of their employees, guess what? They are going to raise prices and they are going to lay off about half their employees. You think it takes a long time to get a Big Mac and an order of fries at rush hour now — just wait until you try to get one with half the current staff standing behind the counter.

Let me say again — I appreciate fast food workers. I support them. I don’t think their employers should be forced to double their salaries. You, of course, are free to think whatever you want to think.

Just this week a federal judge ruled that McDonald’s employees have the right to unionize as a unit — nationally — not just within a single franchise. That was hailed as a giant victory by the $15-an-hour folks. Sometimes, however, you need to be careful what you wish for.

Not too many years ago there were unions all over the country demanding higher wages and shorter work weeks and more breaks and all sorts of concessions for their workers. They were very, very successful, too. They were so successful, in many, many cases, that the companies that were forced to comply with their demands closed shop and moved their operations to places where there were no union demands.

I spent two nights last week in Utica, N.Y. It is part of the rust belt. Several of us went on a walk in downtown Utica and it was like we were on the set of “The Walking Dead.” Tall grass was growing through the cracks in the sidewalks. Buildings were boarded up. Most of the inhabitants were refugees from war-torn nations. A Bosnian mosque had replaced a protestant church. A Ukrainian Catholic congregation had replaced another. Right up until the factories closed in Utica the workers in those factories were very well paid.

Now I don’t think we will be ordering quarter pounders via FedEx from Mexico City in the near future, but I do think the fast food industry being forced to pay an unskilled and untrained work force significantly more per hour than say a teaching assistant at a local school receives is foolishness that will result in widespread loss of jobs across the board.

That’s just my opinion, of course, but mine, as I have said many times, is the only one I have. Now excuse me. I have worked up an appetite for two apple pies. I will remember to exercise caution because the filling is hot. And by the way, I am having two because two are cheaper than one. It’s a great country, isn’t it?