Robots Will Not Take Your Job: An Open Letter to Ed Rensi

Rensi Robots

I’ve seen an article floating around on Facebook these last few days that is deeply troubling. Published by Forbes Magazine, the author Ed Rensi headlines his argument, “Thanks To ‘Fight For $15’ Minimum Wage, McDonald’s Unveils Job-Replacing Self-Service Kiosks Nationwide.” This article does not deserve the increased internet traffic I’d provide by linking to it, but it does deserve some pretty serious scrutiny.

The argument posed by Mr. Rensi is questionable at best, and downright abusive at worst.

Mr. Rensi is the former president and CEO of McDonald’s USA, and so a responsible reader must necessarily question his bias and motivation. Rensi has hopped from mega-corp to mega-corp, and thus has vested personal and business interests in maintaining high corporate profits.

Even if we ignore Mr. Rensi’s affiliations, there are still a number of issues to address in the headline alone, starting with its abusive rhetoric.

The term “gaslighting” describes a rhetorical effort to manipulate someone into questioning their own memory, values, and sanity, and it is one of the most commonly used forms of emotional or psychological abuse.

Rensi hopes to convince us that the protesters are forcing McDonald’s to laying off workers.

Rensi’s headline exemplifies the concept of gaslighting. Saying, “The ‘Fight for $15’ advocates caused McDonald’s to replace jobs with robots” is equivalent to saying, “If only these workers hadn’t asked for better treatment, McDonald’s wouldn’t have had to fire them.” Rensi’s rhetoric would have us believe that in asking for a living wage, the protesters bring economic violence on themselves, ignoring the massive power imbalance between McDonald’s and its underpaid, undereducated, and overworked employees.

The same logic is used by advocates of respectability politics.

“Respectability politics” refers, as Damon Young puts it, to “what happens when minority and/or marginalized groups are told (or teach themselves) that in order to receive better treatment from the group in power, they must behave better.” Someone who buys into respectability politics  might say things like, “You can’t expect men to respect your opinions if you keep dressing like that,” or, “The police wouldn’t have hit him if he’d just done what they said.”

It puts the onus of poor treatment on those being treated poorly, and ignores the fact that even those people who do display the so-called “respectable” behaviors still frequently face the same oppression as their supposedly less respectable counterparts.

Rensi McDonalds protest

Similarly, Rensi hopes to convince us that the protesters are forcing McDonald’s to start laying off workers and investing in robots. This belief relies on the premise that McDonald’s would treat its employees well but for the protesters’ efforts, and this is simply not the case — and Mr. Rensi knows it.

Rensi relies on math that takes McDonald’s current expenditures as foregone conclusions. He argues that individual McDonald’s franchises, after paying operational costs, rake in only a meager profit of between $100,00 – $200,000. He ignores, however, the fine print of a company he once directed. Individual McDonald’s franchises’ profits average 6%, but McDonald’s USA makes around 21% in profits each year. That’s because McDonald’s nationally charges its franchises royalties and rent to operate, and these individual locations contribute 12% of their total revenue (double their profit margin) to their enormously wealthy corporate owners.

In reality, McDonald’s could have been paying its employees better this whole time.

Rensi includes this in McDonald’s franchises’ operational costs, as if contributing to Big Burger’s exceptional profit margins is non-negotiable. In reality, McDonald’s could have been paying its employees better this whole time; activists for a higher minimum wage were just a convenient scapegoat while the main corporation continued to rake in profit at its employees’ expense.

Rensi ignores the very real steps McDonald’s could take to pay its employees well (such as taking less in royalties from its franchises), preferring instead to blame the audacity of employees to ask for a better quality of life. Don’t be fooled: the protesters haven’t forced McDonald’s to give jobs to robots instead of people. McDonald’s made this choice in order to maintain its already staggering profits.

Rensi’s argument is abusive, misleading, and fundamentally flawed. It is nothing short of capitalist propaganda designed both to hurt the working class and to render the working class ostensibly responsible for their own pain.

In short– screw you, Ed Rensi. And screw your crappy justification for hurting workers.

We’re not buying it.

Image via UPI.