Workers across the country have been pushing for higher wages. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fast-food industry, where jobs typically start at minimum wage and workers feel like their contributions are undervalued.
Critics, though, have been quick to point out that most fast-food workers are not yet working toward what anyone would define as a career. These are starter jobs. And now McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food chain, is weighing in on the argument.
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Their solution to the problem? Replace the people complaining about their wages with machines. Automation. Here’s what the system looks like–demonstrated, ironically, by a McDonald’s employee.
This idea gained momentum at a recent “Fight for 15” rally, where hourly workers protested their low wages. They want to be paid at least $15 an hour (which equates to roughly $30,000 a year for full-time employment).
Former president and CEO of McDonald’s USA, Ed Rensi, blasted the demonstrators. On Tuesday of this week, Rensi told Forbes Magazine that the protesting employees were easily replaceable. And he wasn’t talking about hiring new employees. McDonald’s is already rolling out “self-serving machines.”
“As the labor union-backed Fight for $15 begins yet another nationwide strike on November 29,” Rensi wrote, “I have a simple message for the protest organizers and the reporters covering them: I told you so.”
“It brings me no joy to write these words. The push for a $15 starter wage has negatively impacted the career prospects of employees who were just getting started in the workforce while extinguishing the businesses that employed them. I wish it were not so. But it’s important to document these consequences, lest policymakers elsewhere decide that the $15 movement is worth embracing.”
McDonald’s is now using “self-service kiosks” in 500 restaurants in California, Florida, and New York. Customers use a touch screen to place their order, then wait in the lobby for the food to be delivered. While the food is still prepared by humans, even that process is at risk of automation.
“Numerous restaurant chains (both quick service and full service) have looked to computer tablets as a solution for rising labor costs that won’t adversely impact the customer’s experience. Eatsa, a fully-automated restaurant concept, now has five locations—all in cities or states that have embraced a $15 minimum wage. And in a scene stolen from The Jetsons, the Starship delivery robot is now navigating the streets of San Francisco with groceries and other consumer goods. The company’s founder pointed to a rising minimum wage as a key factor driving the growth of his automated delivery business.”
Rensi was one of the loudest voices in the fight against an increased minimum wage. He said it would “wipe out thousands of entry-level opportunities for people without many other options.” Maybe he knew what he was talking about, after-all?