As Fast Food Forward Movement Spreads, Its Leader Makes Over $250,000

August 26, 2013 by Douglas A. McIntyre

Source: Thinkstock
The Fast Food Forward movement to increase pay for people who work at fast-food companies like McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) and Yum! Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM) seems to have a fair point. These workers cannot live much above the poverty level if they make only $7.25 an hour, or even $8 or $9. The movement continues to push for a pay level of $15 an hour. Whether or not that hourly figure would lift these workers to a level where they make enough to support them at a lower middle class level, one aspect of the movement has undercut the Fast Food Forward efforts and will continue to do so. The leader of one of the movement’s largest supporters, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), makes well in excess of $250,000 a year. As a matter for fact, the union’s president, Mary Kay Henry, made nearly $300,000 in 2011.

Most of the Fast Food Forward sponsors and supporters are appropriate, given the movement’s goals. These include small groups of the workers themselves, though these are hardly official unions, local clergy and local community leaders. Unfortunately, for both the workers who want and say they need higher wages and most of their supporters, the size of the protests that have spread across most of America’s largest cities have been too small to make much difference. These protests get one day of press coverage and then disappear. The heads of the fast-food chains can afford to ignore “strikes” that only include a few hundred people and rarely last for more than a few hours.

Part of the argument that fast-food workers make is that senior management of the largest companies in the industry are extremely well paid. The response of the same executives is that their companies will operate with much lower margins if wages rise sharply. This would alienate shareholders, and management is, after all, beholden to shareholders above all else. Once the issue of top executive pay is taken off the table, the reasons for the protests lose much of their power. Mary Kay Henry’s salary undercuts the argument that only huge corporations pay their top executives lavishly. Henry makes about 20 times what a person making $7.25 an hour does.

The Fast Food Forward movement already has lost much of its momentum. The protests have come and gone in most big cities. Fast Food Forward apparently does not have any other tactics, beyond moral appeal. With a highly paid union leader at its head, even that moral appeal is limited.