In recent weeks, labor unions and Occupy-inspired protesters have organized one-day strikes of fast-food workers as a way of securing either increases in the minimum wage, local living wage ordinances, or union contracts for the workers.  One such strike just took place in Milwaukee.  The usual interests take the usual positions.
"The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO is proud to stand in solidarity with striking fast food workers whose actions today are calling attention to income inequality, worker exploitation, and the right to a living wage and to a union," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

Scott DeFife, executive vice president for policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said the organizing campaigns in Milwaukee and other cities were targeting an industry that "has not been heavily unionized."

"Restaurants care about their employees, and the restaurant industry provides opportunities for millions of Americans, women and men from all backgrounds, to move up the ladder and succeed. In addition to providing more than 13 million job opportunities, the industry is one of the best paths to achieving the American dream, with 80% of owners and managers having started their careers in entry-level positions," DeFife said.

According to the Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee, the loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs has forced workers to rely on low-paying jobs in fast food and retail. The group cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says seven out of 10 growth occupations are considered low-wage.
Hidden among the usual give and take of the talking points is a reality in which fast-food is no longer an entry level job.
Some restaurants have said they'll trim the hours of employees this year to get below the 30-hour threshold that will make them pay health insurance, starting next January, under the new health law.

Until recently, there had been no efforts to unionize fast-food employees because the industry has been beset by high turnover and largely populated by teens and young adults working in part-time or seasonal jobs. The recession and sluggish recovery, however, has given rise to a new class of adult fast-food worker who can't find other employment.

"It's a job for adults supporting families," says Tsedeye Gebreselassie, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project.

The ranks of limited-service restaurant workers have increased 11.5% to 3.8 million since the job market hit bottom in February 2010, nearly twice the rate of all private employees.
Identifying the causal responsibility for the disappearance of manufacturing jobs is a bigger challenge than I can hope to rise to in a brief post.  There may be researchers able to investigate the refractory evidence in future, that is, if there are any careers for academic researchers in the future.  It can't help, though, that public policies include incentives for employers to reduce working hours rather than pay additional fringe benefits (that in itself a reversal of the incentives) at the same time that working adults whether out of desperation or as more sympathetic individuals to union organization are making careers out of what used to be entry-level jobs.  Not a good time to be a young person.

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