McDonald’s Former CEO: Buying Robots Cheaper Than Paying $15 An Hour For Someone To Bag Fries

As fast food workers push for a $15 minimum wage, technology could easily take their place, according to a former CEO of McDonald’s.

Former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi was interviewed on Fox Business Network’s Mornings with Maria on Tuesday, and during the interview, he reportedly warned that an increase in the minimum wage paid to workers in the fast food industry could lead to massive job loss.

As thousands of low-wage workers plan to protest at McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting in Chicago on Thursday, the former CEO warned them, saying that at a relatively low cost, the burger giant could replace them with intelligent robots.

“It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries – it’s nonsense and it’s very destructive and it’s inflationary and it’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe,” Rensi said.

As reported by the Guardian, Rensi stressed that even without a minimum $15 per hour law in place, he believes many franchise-model fast food businesses are already moving towards automation, as they are dependent on low-skilled workers to grow.

“It’s just common sense. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. And the more you push this, it’s going to happen faster,” Rensi continued to warn workers.

There are already many McDonald’s fast food outlets with self-serve kiosks replacing cashiers, allowing customers to order and pay for their food without the need of interacting with a human worker. According to Rensi, even the actual burger-making process could be automated in a similar way.

In fact, according to a study run by London Business School, management professor Lynda Gratton and futurologist David A. Smith have predicted such a massive shift in technology at fast food outlets could happen within the next 20 years. According to that study, the effects would be much further reaching than replacing unskilled labor in fast food restaurants.

According to a report by the Daily Mirror, Smith said, “Advances in machine learning [mean] the task of interrogating large amounts of data is likely to become fully-automated, making jobs with any systematic component vulnerable,” adding jobs in other spheres such as architecture, communications, law, and medicine are also expected to be taken over by intelligent machines.

According to Gratton, it is possible that a third of jobs in Europe would be replaced by technology within the next two decades, saying as middle-skilled roles disappear, “workers may find that the ‘rung’ above them no longer exists, and that the career ladder may begin to look more like a career web.”

Reportedly, one of McDonald’s biggest competitors, Wendy’s, has stated this month they are planning to install self-service kiosks at their restaurants. Citing the rising cost of labor leading from the decision of California and New York to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, the company could go ahead in the next several years. On top of this, other states are also pushing for a $15 per hour minimum.

According to a report by the BBC, the Chinese tech company Foxconn, which is involved in manufacturing electronics for Apple and Samsung, has recently replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. The same could easily apply to companies in the U.S.

Foxconn said in a statement they are applying robotics engineering and “other innovative manufacturing technologies” to replace repetitive tasks previously performed by human employees. They say through training they also enable their employees to focus on “higher value-added elements” of the manufacturing process, including research and development, quality control, and process control.

[Photo via Flickr by Mike Mozart/CC BY 2.0]