Fast Food Workers Expected to Protest Low Wages in 35 Cities
NEW YORK– Fast-food customers in search of burgers
and fries on Thursday might run into striking workers
A growing movement among fast food workers to demand higher wages is expected to gain momentum this Thursday as strikes and protests against the country’s biggest restaurant chains spread to the South and the West Coast.
Organizers say thousands of fast-food workers are set to stage walkouts in 35 cities around the country, part of a push to get chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s to pay workers higher wages.
It’s expected be the largest nationwide strike by fast-food workers, according to organizers. The biggest effort so far was over the summer when about 2,200 of the nation’s millions of fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven cities.
Thursday’s planned walkouts follow a series of strikes that began last November in New York City, then spread to cities including Chicago, Detroit and Seattle.
Workers say they want $15 an hour, which would be about $31,000 a year for full-time employees. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage, which many fast food workers make, of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.
The move comes amid calls from the White House, some members of Congress and economists to hike the federal minimum wage, which was last raised in 2009. But most proposals seek a far more modest increase than the ones workers are asking for, with President Barack Obama wanting to boost it to $9 an hour.
The push has brought considerable media attention to a staple of the fast-food industry– the so-called “McJobs” that are known for their low pay and limited prospects. But the workers taking part in the strikes still represent a tiny fraction of the broader industry.
And it’s not clear if the strikes on Thursday will shut down any restaurants because organizers made their plans public earlier in a call for workers around the country to participate, which gave managers time to adjust their staffing levels.
More broadly, it’s not clear how many customers are aware of the movement, with turnout for past strikes relatively low in some cities.
As it stands, fast-food workers say they can’t live on what they’re paid.
Shaniqua Davis, 20, lives in the Bronx with her boyfriend, who is unemployed, and their 1-year-old daughter. Davis has worked at a McDonald’s a few blocks from her apartment for the past three months, earning $7.25 an hour. Her schedule varies, but she never gets close to 40 hours a week. “Forty? Never. They refuse to let you get to that many hours.”
Her weekly paycheck is $150 or much lower. “One of my paychecks, I only got $71 on there. So I wasn’t able to do much with that. My daughter needs stuff, I need to get stuff for my apartment,” said Davis, who plans taking part in the strike
She pays the rent with public assistance but struggles to afford food, diapers, subway and taxi fares, cable TV and other expenses with her paycheck.
“It’s really hard,” she said. ”If I didn’t have public assistance to help me out, I think I would have been out on the street already with the money I make at McDonald’s.”
McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say that they don’t make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants.
For the restaurants it does own, McDonald’s said in a statement that pay starts at minimum wage but the range goes higher, depending on the employee’s position and experience level. It said that raising entry-level wages would mean higher overall costs, which could result in higher prices on menus.
“That would potentially have a negative impact on employment and business growth in our restaurants, as well as value for our customers,” the company said in a statement.
The Wendy’s Co. and Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, did not respond to a request for comment.
The National Restaurant Association says the low wages reflect the fact that most fast-food workers tend to be younger and have little work experience. Scott DeFife, a spokesman for the group, says that doubling wages would hurt job creation, noting that fast-food chains are already facing higher costs for ingredients, as well as new regulations that will require them to pay more in health care costs.
Still, the actions are striking a chord in some corners.
“It’s absolutely going to continue to grow,” says Steven Ashby, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations.
“I see no signs from all the people I’ve talked with that it’s going to falter. At this point it hasn’t reached its peak yet. The energy of the workers, their passion, their commitment, is very, very high. They basically feel like, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose,’” Ashby said.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which is providing the fast-food strikes with financial support and training, said the actions in recent months show that fast-food workers can be mobilized despite the industry’s relatively higher turnover rates and younger age.
Experts are skeptical that a $15 per hour base wage is likely to be implemented. With almost 2.4 million fast food workers employed in the United States, the number striking is still relatively miniscule. Getting a huge number of people to abandon their posts would be a challenge because they could be subject to immediate firing for missing work as non-union employees.
But less dramatic results, like smaller raises from individual franchises and perhaps a modest increase to the minimum wage, might be attainable. If the strikes continue to grow in scale– it’s already the biggest labor movement in the history of the fast food industry– there will be more pressure on fast food companies and even legislators to make some kind of concession to workers.
“This doesn’t end at the strike,” says Caroline Durocher, a Subway employee in Seattle who plans to walk out on Thursday.
“We’re going to keep going. We’re not going to shut up.”
Via Yahoo News and WPSD Local 6
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See our previous Humboldt Sentinel article, “Taking on Fast Food and Fox News“