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Andrew Walsh
A robotic chef from Japan's Motoman prepares a dish. Robots have become increasingly popular replacements for human workers across Asia. (AP image)

Why robots could soon replace fast food workers demanding higher minimum wage

If Seattle fast workers demanding a big raise in the minimum wage get their way, they'll soon be replaced by robots says KIRO Radio's John Curley, who points to growing automation as a warning to those who want $15 an hour or more to flip burgers.

A group of local fast food workers recently staged a one-day walkout and are calling on the Seattle City Council to increase the minimum wage from $9.19 per hour - the highest in the country - to $15 an hour.

"We're asking for $15 because in order to support one person in a one bedroom apartment you need to make $14.88. We don't make anywhere near that and we're all on food stamps," 23-year-old Amanda Larson told KIRO Radio's Linda Thomas recently as she worked the counter at a Seattle Arby's.

But restaurant owners argue they simply can't afford it. With technology continuing to allow restaurants around the world to replace people with robots and computers, Curley says look no farther than several examples in Japan and Europe as a sign of what's to come if the Seattle workers get their way.

A noted Japanese sushi-chain has robots making food while customers order on a touch screen. A conveyer belt delivers their food and a computer tracks customer purchases and automates their bill payment at the end.

"There are no managers in this restaurant," Curley says. "The managers are all in a centrally located place that are just simply watching video screens. So they've been able to cut out almost all the help."

Several years ago, McDonald's installed thousands of touch-screen kiosks at stores across Europe, replacing cashiers entirely. The company has reportedly also tried out automated burger flippers to further cut back on employees.

It's not far fetched. A Chinese restaurateur has developed a robotic chef now found in a number of noodle bars, further eliminating the need for humans. With the robot chefs costing just $1,500, they're far cheaper than employees and don't demand raises or breaks.

Curley says the workers here demanding higher wages for a job that should be entry-level should think twice before raising too much of a fuss - before they find themselves completely obsolete.

"The saddest thing for this story, if you follow it, is robots will replace human beings in these McDonald's and fast food restaurants and low skill workers will have really no place to go."

Josh Kerns, KIRO Radio Reporter
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. He covers everything from May Day riots in Seattle to the latest Boeing news.
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