Back in July we covered the controversial (to say the least) move by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to take a page from Barack Obama’s playbook and bypass the state legislature through executive action, raising the minimum wage for fast food chain workers to $15 per hour. This was seen in the more progressive sectors of the activist community as a role model for other states to emulate as long as Congress wouldn’t make such a move on a national level. Protests regarding the fundamental unfairness of this plan, combined with the highly dubious legal nature of the scheme fell on deaf ears and the Governor moved ahead anyway, using his newly created special panel under the Department of Labor to submit the proposal for final approval.

That sweeping power grab may finally run into some legal trouble this month as a national restaurant group is filing an appeal to put a halt to the move. (Press & Sun Bulletin)

A national restaurant organization is challenging New York’s move toward a $15-an-hour minimum wage for fast-food workers.

The National Restaurant Association filed a challenge late last week with the state Industrial Board of Appeals, asking the panel to throw out a September order from the state Department of Labor implementing a higher minimum wage at fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King.

Critics of the minimum-wage bump, which would gradually ramp up to $15-an-hour statewide by July 2021, faced a deadline of Monday to file an appeal. The state’s current minimum wage is $8.75 an hour.

The complaint is being filed on a rather wonky, state constitutional basis, claiming correctly that this scheme is a vast overreach of executive power and bypasses the authority of the legislature to decide such matters. That may be true, but there are far bigger reasons for intercession. You may recall that the order to raise wages would apply only to fast food restaurants, and even then only to the larger ones with fifteen or more outlets. It’s clearly targeted against McDonald’s, Burger King and all the rest of their competition. But as we noted earlier this month, McDonald’s is a group which may show nice profits nationally, but the vast majority of their outlets are franchises, and a significant number of those are currently losing money.

Doubling the labor costs for those franchises will essentially shut them down. For those who don’t go under, this will almost certainly provide the required impetus for them to move to automated kiosks to replace the people currently running the registers and taking orders. In fact, both McDonald’s and White Castle have already been experimenting with this technology in preparation for just such a day. (QSR Magazine)

Last month, White Castle added two touch-screen ordering kiosks at a renovated restaurant in its hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It is the only restaurant in the family-owned, 406-unit chain to feature the kiosks, which are part of a pilot project. The large screens allow customers to order their burgers exactly as they like them in the privacy of the kiosk area, says White Castle vice president Jamie Richardson…

McDonald’s is testing a similar system at a store in Laguna Niguel, California. Customers there can order from iPads at every table, choosing from among more than 20 toppings and sauces to create custom-made burgers that are grilled to order. Company representatives, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, told Technomic in December that the kiosk test will help McDonald’s gauge how customers feel about the customization experience.

The management teams of these companies are clearly also experimenting with the spin they want to put on such innovation. The pitch seems to focus on saying that kiosks make the ordering experience “more personal” and allow for greater customization of the customer’s order. That may well be true, but it also eliminates the need for the worker who formerly took the order. All you really need with such a system in place is a couple of people to read the orders off of a screen and cook the actual food along with one shift manager to bring the orders out and field questions if any issues arise with customers trying to use the kiosk system.

If that takes hold in the state there will be no going back once the initial investment in the technology has been made. At that point, both Governor Cuomo and all of those union activists marching in the streets can expect to reap what they’ve sown. If you thought having a job that paid nine dollars an hour was rough, try living on the state minimum unemployment check.