Will Golden Arches go robot to avoid pay increase?

As the populist groundswell for a higher minimum wage grows, many businesses are being pulled into the conversation, for the most part against their will. But, since the beginning of the loud political conversation about a higher minimum wage, two brands have become favorites for those demanding at least $15—Walmart and McDonald’s.

The former responded by raising its personal minimum wage somewhat, but the latter has been essentially mum on the subject, following laws where mandated but offering little in the way of acknowledgement of the debate.

Now a former CEO with the Golden Arches company has weighed in on the issue, telling Fox Business that those demanding $15 are just talking themselves out of a job. Here’s what former McDonald’s USA CEO Ed Rensi said:
“I was at the National Restaurant Show yesterday, and if you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the industry, it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 per hour bagging fries … it’s nonsense, and it’s very destructive, and it’s inflammatory, and it’s going to cause a job loss across the country like you’re not going to believe…”

When it comes to lines in the sand, it doesn’t get much clearer than that. The rub, of course, is that most of the 1.3 million American workers earning the current minimum wage aren’t really listening to the businesses they are demanding more from. They don’t seem to understand the fast food business model is not to employ workers, it’s to serve mediocre food as fast as possible. It’s about units sold, not paychecks printed.

This is nothing new for fast food. Efficiency has always been the name of the game. Even in the higher-end “casual quick” restaurants, that advertise and often serve better quality food, the goal is to operate as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. These businesses are built from the ground up to sell inexpensive food cheap, and to sell as much of it as possible. Not as much as “humanly” possible. Just as much as they actively can.

Increases in technology are being developed specifically to address exactly this model. Machines are not being made to render humans more expensive, they are being designed to make people more efficient. And, if the ultimate in efficiency is an actual robot doing the job, expect that to happen with increasing regularity.

Perhaps in a nod to the Other Side of this conversation, Rensi suggested to Fox that the minimum wage debate should not be framed as an “either or” scenario.

“I think we ought to have a multifaceted wage program in this country … high school kids … entry level worker(s) … the states ought to manage this because they know more about what’s happening on the ground than anybody in DC…”

With these few sentences, Rensi may have reshaped the debate entirely. He certainly gave those on the side of business, especially franchisees, something to consider.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and founder of New York headquartered PR Firm, 5W Public Relations. 5WPR has offices in Denver and Los Angeles.

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