"... a rapidly increasing number of food industry and other retail workers are now fighting for basic rights: halfway decent pay, a real work schedule, the right to organize, health care, paid sick days, vacations and respect. Next week, organizers say, we’ll see a walkout of thousands of workers at hundreds of stores in at least seven cities, including New York and Chicago.
Something is happening here, though exactly what isn’t quite clear. Fast food was never a priority of organized labor — it’s difficult to imagine a traditional union of four million fast-food workers in something like 200,000 locations — but dozens of organizations are now involved, including, to its credit, the Service Employees International Union, which is providing financing and counsel. The upshot: Workers with nothing to lose are demanding a living wage of $15 an hour, and gaining strength and confidence."
Bittman welcomes this:
"... we tolerate the fact that one in seven of our fellow Americans live in poverty, with half of those people working tough jobs. Do we want to be part of that? Surely, better scenarios exist."
This is a classic case of good intentions and bad policies. Bittman seems like a nice guy who wants to do some good. But like most people, he doesn't understand how markets, prices, and unions work. He assumes he does, but he really doesn't. Unions aren't the answer to low wages. Unions are esssentially cartels that raise wages for some lucky workers at the expense of other workers (who will become unemployed), consumers (who will pay more for food), and shareholders (who will see reduced profits). If you tot up all the benefits and costs, you will find that they do far more harm than good. A much better way to tackle the problem of low wages is through direct redistribution programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit.
If everyone learned a little economics, we can stop pursuing bad ideas and actually solve some problems.