Mondays strike was the largest mobilization of fast food workers in US history.
This post originally appeared at Occupy Democrats
By Salvatore Aversa
On Monday, fast food workers from seven different states walked out of their jobs in a sign of solidarity for higher wages, better treatment and the stoppage of “wage theft.” The strike was the largest fast food worker mobilization in US History. Workers in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City and Flint, Michigan walked out of the fast food chains of McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Wendy’s.
The latest fuel to the fire was the budget that McDonald’s released, in which the main plan was to get a second job, and showed prices that were not connected to reality, such as health insurance costing $20 a month, does not budget for child care, food, clothing or gas, and heating costing a whopping $0. With these numbers, it is no wonder that McDonald’s believes they are paying their employees a livable wage.
Many of the workers rely on government assistance, such as medicaid and food stamps, while the corporations they work for reap the benefits of such inexpensive labor.
The strike was organized by non-union workers, and is the latest micro-strike by the industry. They hope to draw attention to their cause, embarrass management, and engage the public, while reducing (but not totally eliminating) the employees risk of being fired. The strikes were led by Fast Food Forward, a coalition of employees in New York City that is focused on increasing workers rights.
The group released the following statement.
“In America, people who work hard should be able to afford basic necessities like groceries, rent, childcare and transportation. While fast food corporations reap the benefits of record profits, workers are barely getting by—many are forced to be on public assistance despite having a job. Raising pay for fast food workers will benefit workers and strengthen the overall economy.”
The success of Fast Food Forward has implications throughout the industry. Working in fast food once had a negative connotation. But more and more Americans are turning to the industry, as demand is at an all time high. But, wages are not increasing with the added demand, and as thus, many potential employees are staying away. This is causing an increase in work load for the employees. Workers are also reporting wage theft.
“The Fast Food Forward report identifies several types of violations as prevalent in the city’s fast food industry: employees working, without pay, before or after their shift; employees working overtime without being paid time-and-a-half; employees working during their breaks or not receiving breaks; and delivery employees not being reimbursed for expenses like gasoline or safety equipment.”
On Friday, workers at several fast food establishments were able to disrupt their company’s business. One striker, Jose Cruz told Salon that 90% of the workers during the evening shift joined the work stoppage, forcing the stoppage of deliveries.
Workers are asking for a wage increase from their current minimum wage of $7.25, to a raise of $15 in New York City. The average pay in New York City in $8.25.
McDonald’s employee Kareem Starks said, “I might be doing the work of three people, but still getting paid one wage. [It has] been hard trying to live off the minimum wage, $7.25, and support my two kids plus pay rent.”
According to Fast Food Forward’s website, the average salary of a fast food employee in New York City is $11,000. This compares to $25,000 a day the CEO of fast food firms make. The strikers are joined by members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“SEIU members, like all service-sector workers, are worse off when large fast-food and retail companies are able to hold down wages and push benefit standards for working people,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told The Washington Post.
The employees are also gaining the support of the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
“Opportunities for advancement in the fast food industry are significantly limited compared to other industries: only 2.2 percent of jobs in the fast food industry are managerial, professional, or technical occupations, compared with 31 percent of jobs in the overall U.S. economy…”
Wendy’s and McDonald’s could not be reached for comment. But the Vice President of Domino’s emailed Salon and stated,
“Opportunity exists for everyone in our system who’s willing to work hard and focus on rising to the next level. For that reason, we don’t focus on an individual, specific wage issue.” For reasons including the “tremendous upward mobility” at Domino’s and the fact that “we are often people’s second job,” McIntyre said, “we don’t believe unions are necessary for our brand…”
Of course they do not believe they need unions. That would involve paying employees a livable wage, and giving them protections not afforded to those not in a union.
The fast food employees strike comes on the heels of Walmart’s threats to freeze plans of building three new Walmart’s and closing three other Walmart’s in the Washington, D.C. area after the local board passed a bill requiring large retailers to pay its employees a “livable wage” of at least $12.50 an hour.
The idea that this would somehow raise prices of goods to the point that American’s would not be able to afford, has been disproven by economists, think tanks and university studies. It is a vicious cycle. We are told that higher wages will force prices up too high for us, but lower prices are also forcing out wages to be kept low. Something has to break. And, prices are constantly going up, as wages are stagnate.
This is the future that Republicans want. If you prevent upward mobility, it creates more wealth for them. And, they simply cannot have us “poor people” becoming wealthy, because then their wealth would not look as impressive. Keep them broke and keep them stupid and they will vote Republican. It has yet to fail them.
Just look at Texas Governor Rick Perry. As he goes across the country asking businesses to come to Texas, and touts his jobs record, what he fails to address is that the jobs created are minimum wage.
But, as American’s start waking up, the Conservative hold on their party is beginning to be lost by the extremists. Republicans see investing in America as nothing but money in their pockets. Democrats see investing in America as education for kids, health care for everybody, and livable wage jobs. Expecting a standard of living should not be a radical idea. It should be a give.
I applaud the workers for walking out. And I will stand behind them. I would never cross a picket line, because their success could very well affect my wage in the future. But, as long as fast food employees are overworked and underpaid, do not be surprised when you see stories of guys licking taco shells, or shoving their privates on subway bread. If they have nothing to be proud of, they will not take pride in what they do.
I always believed that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of you. What Fast Food Forward is doing, is drawing attention to a group of people often disparaged. But the next time you pull up the take out window, and you are told have a nice day, consider that person has a family they are trying to support as well. After all, we are all in this together, and we are all just trying to make ends meet.
Photo: Fast Food Forward/Facebook