Down with capitalism! The IWW and Burgerville

Down with capitalism!

That’s the message from Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as it tries to unionize Burgerville workers.


“It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism,” says the Preamble to the IWW Constitution. “The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown.”

The IWW says its long-term goal is for the “working class” to “take possession of the means of production (and) abolish the wage system”. If you were a company owner, would you welcome a union with these ultimate goals?

Citing as their inspiration garment workers in Cambodia, factory workers in China, and other fast food workers across the United States, Burgerville employees pushing for a union have a list of demands, including:

  • an immediate $5 an hour raise for all hourly workers
  • affordable, quality healthcare
  • paid maternity/paternity leave
  • free childcare and transportation stipends

The employees involved in the organizing effort say a typical Burgerville worker makes $9.60 an hour and is scheduled 26 hours a week, generating a monthly income of about $990 a month before taxes.

Burgerville has said the average hourly pay company-wide is $11.36 per hour and in Oregon the average is $10.89 per hour.

Whoever’s figures are used, the IWW’s demands, if implemented, would put the wages of Burgerville’s hourly workers far above the levels in the minimum wage law signed by Governor Brown in March 2016.

Under that law, the minimum wage within the Portland urban growth boundary is now $9.75 and will increase as follows:

July 1, 2017: $11.25

July 1, 2018: $12.00

July 1, 2019: $12.50

July 1, 2020: $13.25

July 1, 2021: $14.00

July 1, 2022: $14.75

Add in healthcare coverage, paid maternity/paternity leave, free childcare and transportation stipends and the cost of hourly workers would go through the roof for Burgerville.

In arguing its case for a Burgerville union, the IWW quotes a Burgerville worker: “Most people can’t even afford to have an apartment. In Portland, everyone knows that the cost of living is insane. It basically took me a second job to be able to have a place of my own. I couldn’t afford it with what Burgerville pays me.”

I get it. It’s hard to live on an hourly wage of a typical Burgerville worker, but most of these jobs are not expected to be family-wage jobs, nor are they intended to be lifetime careers.

Burgerville says, for example, that and over half of its hourly employees are age 22 or younger. If they expect their hourly jobs to ever generate enough income to support a family they are delusional.

And if a Burgerville union succeeded in pushing the company to meet its demands, it’s likely that this would disproportionally hurt the very people the union organizers say they want to help, less-educated low-skilled workers.

A broadly cited study by David Neumark, an economics professor at the University of California at Irvine, and William Wascher, deputy director of research and statistics at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, examined the literature on this issue and found “the weight of the evidence points to” lower employment effects.

That’s of considerable concern to people like Craig Garthwaite, an assistant professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“That’s troubling, because I think it’s important for people to get into the labor market,” Garthwaite said. “Even if these aren’t great jobs, they lead to better jobs as your skills improve. That’s the idea. I don’t think we should be doing anything to dissuade people from entering the job market right now.”

Minimum wages are intended to be commensurate with a worker’s skills, education and productivity at that point in time, enable them to develop higher skills and work their way out of minimum wage and up the pay scale.

It’s clear that the IWW and the Burgerville workers demanding expensive wages and benefits just don’t get it.






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