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Minimum Wage Fight Not To Blame For McDonald's Robots

Workers wait at cash registers at a McDonald's restaurant in New York fitted with self-serve kiosks.

Catchy Headlines

This week, former CEO of McDonald's Ed Rensi wrote an op-ed in Forbes blaming protesters who are demanding higher minimum wages for forcing the restaurant chain to replace workers with automated kiosks.

The piece, titled "Thanks To 'Fight For $15' Minimum Wage, McDonald's Unveils Job-Replacing Self-Service Kiosks Nationwide" sparked a kajillion shares on social media and nearly a million views.

Other outlets followed suit, running stories that quoted Rensi with headlines that link two news items – cities adopting higher minimum wages and new self-service kiosks at McDonald's.

The problem is, there's no evidence that one directly caused the other.

So Clicky

Browsing hundreds of tweets hash-tagged with #automation and #mcdonalds, a couple of common responses emerge. For those against minimum wage hikes, responses echoed Rensi's "I told you so" tone.

Much has been written to counter arguments that higher minimum wages cause job losses, including a statement from the U.S. Department of Labor, and a letter to congress from 600 economists saying that "the weight of evidence now [shows] that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market."

But on the pro-labor side of the fence, Rensi's blame-shaming op-ed is still clickbait, because it seems to support a counter-narrative: greedy corporations are sticking it to low-wage workers once again.

Conflicting reactions to dubious claims offer an apt example in the national discussion about echo chambers and fake or misleading news.

Fact Check

Many restaurants, including Panera and other fast-casual venues, have been moving in this direction for several years.

McDonald's has talked publicly about self-service kiosks as far back as 2011, long before the Fight for 15 movement started gathering steam.

And none of the companies exploring these features have mentioned saving labor costs and cutting jobs. Statements have focused instead on customizing menu choices, adding table service and staff assisting customers at the kiosks.

In his op-ed, Rensi mentions that "it's striking to see employees who once would have managed a cash register now reduced to monitoring a customer's choices at an iPad-style kiosk."

Taking company statements about their own motives at face value is not best practice, but McDonald's words do not support links between kiosks and Fight for 15.

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