Copenhagen, Denmark appears, by many accounts, to be a sort of utopia. In a new report, the New York Times compares the wages of fast food workers in the U.S. and Denmark. In the U.S. and in many countries, employees at McDonald's, Burger King, and Taco Bell live below the poverty line. But in Denmark, employees at Burger King make the equivalent of $20 per hour, or two-and-a-half times what employees at Burger King make in the U.S.
In Denmark, employees at Burger King make the equivalent of $20 per hour, or two-and-a-half times what employees at Burger King make in the U.S.
While liberal labor groups cite Denmark as an example of how fast food companies can bump employee wages up to a more livable $15 per hour, critics point to the cultural and economic differences between the two countries. Denmark is a much smaller country, and its cost of living is much higher than that in the U.S. Most surprisingly — or unsurprisingly — fast food restaurants in Denmark make a smaller profit margin than fast food restaurants in the U.S.
A union-based workforce in Denmark means open negotiations drive every major decision between employers and employees. It also means Denmark has no minimum wage. Government sanctioned healthcare provides many of the benefits fast food workers in the U.S. can only dream of. Half of the fast food employees in the U.S. rely on some form of public assistance, according to a study from the University of California, Berkley. On average, they make less than $9 per hour.
Besides lower profits, the other major economic difference between fast food restaurants in the U.S. and fast food outlets in Denmark is how much they charge for a meal. A Big Mac costs almost a dollar more — $5.60 verses $4.80 in the U.S. — but as a professor from the University of Copenhagen told the NYT, no one in Denmark is complaining: "We Danes accept that a burger is expensive, but we also know that working conditions and wages are decent when we eat that burger."
So the question becomes: Can America's big fast food companies stomach the idea of guiding their business model to benefit human interests rather than shareholder pockets? With McDonald's suffering through its worst sales slump in a decade, this might just be the last resort it needs to get investors — as well as employees and eaters— back on its side.