Whenever fast food workers go on strike to demand a raise, the argument often lobbed back in their direction is that if they get paid more, the cost will be passed onto the consumer. Instead of a 99-cent double cheeseburger at McDonald's, it will cost $1.50. And seeing as we're mostly selfish creatures, if we believe our own bank accounts will be jeopardized, we just kind of go quiet and look the other way.
But there is another solution that's too often glossed over: In order to give workers a raise, cut the salaries of the CEOs. They certainly have the dough to afford it.
The public policy group Demos released a report this week that looked at the disparity in incomes between the highest and lowest rungs of the fast food industry. They went through the data, spanning back to 2000, looking at how CEOs for 10 fast food companies -- including Chipotle, Starbucks, McDonald's, and YUM! Brands, the conglomerate that is responsible for KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell -- are compensated. This included their salaries, but also stock options and lavish bonuses. Then they compared it to their average workers.
Some of their findings:
- The average CEO of a fast food company earns $23.8 million a year. Their workers, meanwhile, earn less than $19,000 a year. (That's for a full-time worker. It's worth pointing out that most workers don't get enough hours to be considered full-time, a way for companies to forgo paying them benefits.)
- The average salary for a CEO quadrupled since the year 2000. During the same time span, the average salary for a worker increased by 0.3 percent.
- In 2012, the average compensation for a fast food CEO was 1,200 times that of their average worker.
That last one is the biggie, because it gives the income disparity some perspective.
See, the conclusion of the report isn't that fast food CEOs make a lot more money than their workers. That happens across the spectrum of industry. But the fact that it's become that much more is troubling.
In the retail business, the difference between top and bottom worker is 304 to 1. In the arts and entertainment industry, it's 241 to 1. In the construction business, it's 93 to 1. The relationship between the CEO and worker in the fast food industry is so out of line with the rest of industry norms it's hard not to feel that something's off. Instead of companies paying their workers a living wage, they're allowing us taxpayers to foot the bill instead.
Remember how we're essentially making it possible for Walmart to walk away with billions in profits every year? Well, fast food CEOs are basically doing the same thing by essentially having their salaries subsidized by taxpayer dollars:
A report released last fall found that 52 percent of fast-food workers are enrolled in, or have their families enrolled in, public assistance programs, such as SNAP (food stamps).
It's like this. (And, sorry in advance for the algebra.)
A fast food worker needs to make a certain amount of money -- let's call it (total) -- in order to live. They'll get to this place one way or another. Right now, that worker makes (x), which does not yet add up to (total). So the worker needs to get an additional sum -- let's call it (y) -- in order to get there. In short: (x) + (y) = (total). Right now, that (y) is coming from our tax dollars, to the tune of $7 billion a year in public aid. That's a lot. What could happen is for company CEOs to lop off portions of their yearly earnings to make the worker's (x) a lot bigger, drastically cutting down (y). Instead, what actually happens is the suits just kind of laugh and take their private jets to Spain.
Which isn't to say this is all on the specific CEOs of every company. Someone has to approve their compensation, and those someones are boards of directors who feel they need to give their CEOs large sums of money and lavish gifts to raise their company's stock value. Problem is, it doesn't exactly work like that:
There not a lot of evidence that CEOs with pay packages larded with goodies do a better job than those with more modest paychecks. One study found that companies that allow personal use of corporate aircraft, for example, tend to underperform the stock market by about 4 percent a year, over the 10 years covered by the study.
Meaning, maybe it's time for that kind of thinking to change, and instead funnel some of that money towards the people actually doing the work.
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