McDonald’s and Wendy’s are denying a move to test self-service kiosks is connected to a growing movement to raise the minimum wage.
Economists warned increasing the minimum wage is likely to lead to less job opportunities for low-skilled workers. Fast-food and retail establishments have already started using computers and robots to replace low-skilled jobs. McDonald’s and Wendy’s are disputing Tuesday that self-serving computer tests are connected to the minimum wage push.
“An assumption that their use is related to wage or staffing levels is not the case at McDonald’s,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Lisa McComb said. “Staff perform many functions in our restaurants beyond taking the orders, and in those restaurants testing kiosks, there is the ability for some staff to spend more time on hospitality, customer service and other functions.”
Former McDonald’s President Ed Rensi warned May 24 workers are likely to be replaced through automation if the minimum wage goes up to $15 an hour. McDonald’s President Steve Easterbrook countered the claim at the company’s annual shareholder meeting May 25 in Illinois by noting automation would be limited.
“It’s not specifically tied to raising the minimum wage,” Wendy’s Spokesman Bob Bertini told PhillyVoice. “This is primarily driven by consumer demand. Customers, particularly young customers like to be in control. They’re used to doing iPhones and tablets so they like the convenience of using kiosks. And it does help to mitigate some costs.”
Economists have found automation is a natural course of action as the economy continues to evolve. The White House Council of Economic Advisers warned in a report Feb. 22 that technological innovations like automation are on the rise. The question is whether increases of the minimum wage will actually cause automation to occur at a faster rate.
The Fight for $15 has been at the forefront of the minimum wage push by utilizing media marketing campaigns and protests. Those in support claim the policy could help address poverty while critics warn it could also lead to less employment opportunities. Businesses may be forced to reduce their workforce to overcome the added cost of labor.
General Motors was the first company in the country to utilize robots for production in 1961. Automation has been primarily used in industrial occupations but in recent years other industries have begun exploring it as well. Computers are being increasingly used in the service industry.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found any increase of the minimum wage could result in at least some job loss. New York and California both became the first states Apr. 4 to raise the minimum wages to $15 an hour. Advocates have also seen victories on the city level, starting with Seattle in June, 2014.
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