National Consumers League

Fast food workers and the international double standard


Did you know that Burger King pays its Copenhagen employees $20 an hour? That’s the BASE wage for fast food workers throughout Denmark and 2 ½ times what many fast food workers earn in the US. The spokesman for the International Franchise Association, Steve Caldeira,  that represents big businesses that have many franchises, gave a fairly pathetic defense in the New York Times (Fast Food in Denmark Offers Living Wages U.S. Workers Long For”) of why American companies  can’t pay these wages in the US. 

“Denmark is a small country.”  So what does that have to do with paying decent wages?  “with a far higher cost of living.” So that means Burger King and other fast food outlets can pay more when they have to. “Unions dominate and the employment system revolves around that fact.” So they have to pay more because of unions in Denmark but without unions, which they fight to the death in the US, they can get away with paying minimum wage. 

The average wage for fast food workers in the United States is $8.90/hour. According to a recent study from the University of California at Berkeley, half of American fast food workers have to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

NCL sent a letter to the companies paying their European workers 2 ½ times what they pay those in the US in which we said “We believe it is both callous and unpatriotic for Burger King to shortchange the wages of your workforce, while paying more than double those wages in other countries where unions are more powerful.” We asked them to close this wage gap immediately!

The obvious conclusion is that Burger King and its fast food competitors also mentioned in the story can and do pay a living wage and decent benefits in other countries, but refuse to do so for your very own American workforce. The National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group, regularly opposes increased wages and benefits fast food and other workers in the restaurant industry.

Hamburgers in Denmark might cost a bit more -- 80 cents or so according to the Times - they sell there as they would here. If doing the right thing requires raising the price of a Whopper by 80 cents, so be it. Consumers will pay that in the United States, as they do in Denmark.

We expect to see the usual excuses if we get an answer at all to our letters. They will respond by telling us how good Burger King is to its workforce or try to defend this behavior by explaining why things are different in Denmark. The reality is that consumers and workers support companies that treat their workforces with respect and pay them a living wage. This revelation about Burger King paying $20 and myriad benefits to your workforce across the Atlantic calls out for a company response.

NCL has also offered to work with the companies and support serious efforts to close the wage gap.