They Are Worth More

By Max Mihelich

Apr. 24, 2013

Ed Frauenheim is on assignment.

Retail and fast-food restaurant workers in Chicago are protesting for a wage increase today, April 24. The ultimate goal is to go from making $8.25 an hour (that’s minimum wage in Chicago) to $15 an hour.

Earlier this month, the same kind of protest was held by retail and restaurant workers in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and other U.S. cities, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Their rallying cries are “Fight for 15!” and “We Are Worth More.”

They are worth more. That $8.25 an hour is a wage you pay to high school kids living with their parents, not an adult trying to live a decent life in a U.S. city.

Lately McDonald’s has been trying to figure out how to remedy the increasing frequency of customer complaints about rude service. I have a feeling that if McDonald’s paid their employees a decent living wage—instead of a minimum wage—their workers would take more pride in their jobs and take care to interact with customers cordially.

Another idea that comes to mind is that giant fast-food companies could provide avenues to educational opportunities or training programs to their low-skill employees, so they won’t have to feel trapped working at a low-paying fast-food job, so that they can have better access to social mobility.

There’s a Chicago-based fast-food restaurant called Protein Bar that offers something like this. The company’s founder Matt Matros says there are 10 different skills an employee can learn if he or she chooses to. After learning a skill, an employee receives a 50-cent raise. An ambitious Protein Bar employee making minimum wage can soon be making $13.25 an hour. Learning these skills also increases the chance an employee gets promoted to a management position, and thusly another pay raise.

The way I see it, big fast-food companies and retailers could really benefit from paying their low-skill employees more, or by providing a means to allow those employees to earn a higher paycheck. Employees would feel respected as individuals, and feel motivated to perform at a higher level. They would in turn have a greater loyalty to their company and strive to represent the brand positively.

Or at least that’s how I would repay a company that offered me a way to live a decent life.

I strongly believe in responsible capitalism. Taking care of employees, no matter their skill level, just seems like a surefire way to ensure competitive sustainability.

Max Mihelich is Workforce’s associate editor. Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax. Comment below or email

Max Mihelich is a writer in the Chicago area.


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