The coming robot rights movement and the minimum wage

Say, do you remember when Seattle voted to raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour and we only half jokingly suggested that robots might take over some of those jobs? I’m not going to claim that McDonald’s reads Hot Air, but they seem to be taking the suggestion to heart, as reported by Kemberlee Kaye at Legal Insurrection.


McDonald’s employees who picketed for a better living wage (whatever that means) may come to regret that decision. According to a Redditor, a McDonald’s in Illinois replaced their cashiers with machines. The machines appear to be the cousins of the ones found in grocery stores, big box stores, and CVS that allow customers to complete transactions.

How cost effective is replacing an organic employee with a mechanized one? According to an economic blog, and unsurprisingly, the machines likely come out on top in terms of pricing:

For a location open 24 hours: The cost of human cashiers, not counting benefits, $15/hour * 24 hours * 365 days/year = $131,400

For a location open 6AM to Midnight: $15/hour * 18 hours * 365 = $98,550.

For the machine to be cost effective, all it needs to do is cost less than $100,000 a year to buy and maintain.

Who could’ve possibly seen this coming? Forbes. They predicted this exact scenario last July.

Yes, as the Forbes article makes clear, it didn’t exactly require a rocket surgeon to predict that if you drove the labor costs up too far in an unltracompetitive market such as the fast food industry, automation would begin to look too tempting to ignore. You’re going to make us pay the guy at the fry machine 15 bucks and hour? Well… we decided to pass on that and pay a robot nothing instead.


Of course, as Legal Insurrection points out, this may provide new employment opportunities for trial lawyers.

Prof. Reynolds notes that Robot makers must be loving the recent NLRB ruling, as well, which held McDonald’s parent corporation liable for franchisee employment practices. Can a kiosk file an employment grievance?

Robots may not be interested in bringing a lawsuit on their own, but they can no doubt find some lawyers willing to do it for them. They don’t really need time off, though, so I suppose they might sue for higher quality motor oil or renewable energy wall outlets. Those aren’t very good suggestions, I realize, but I’m sure the Southern Poverty Law Center will be able to come up with something better.

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