Fast-food workers stage protests

Thousands of fast-food workers and their supporters beat drums, blew whistles and chanted slogans Thursday on picket lines in dozens of U.S. cities, marking the largest protest yet in their quest for higher wages.
Associated Press
Aug 29, 2013

The nationwide day of demonstrations came after similar actions organized by unions and community groups over the past several months. Workers are calling for the right to unionize without interference from employers and for pay of $15 an hour. That's more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year for full-time employees.

Thursday's walkouts and protests reached about 60 cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, organizers said. But the turnout varied significantly, with some targeted restaurants seemingly operating normally and others temporarily unable to do business because they had too few employees.

Ryan Carter, a 29-year-old who bought a $1 cup of coffee at a New York McDonald's where protesters gathered, said he "absolutely" supported the demand for higher wages.

"They work harder than the billionaires in this city," he said. But Carter said he didn't plan to stop his regular trips to McDonald's.

Jobs in low-wage industries have led the economic recovery. Advocates for a higher minimum wage say that makes it crucial that the jobs pay enough for workers who support families.

The restaurant industry says it already operates on thin margins and insists that sharply higher wages would lead to steeper prices for customers and fewer opportunities for job seekers.

The drive for better pay comes as the White House, some members of Congress and economists seek to raise the federal minimum wage. But most proposals are for a more modest increase, with President Barack Obama suggesting $9 an hour.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers in health care, janitorial and other industries, has been providing financial support and training for local organizers in the fast-food strikes around the country.

Walkouts were also planned Thursday in Atlanta, Hartford, Conn., Los Angeles, Milwaukee, St. Louis and other cities, organizers said.

In New York, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined about 300 to 400 workers and supporters Thursday in a march before the group flooded into a McDonald's near the Empire State Building. Shortly after the demonstration, however, the restaurant seemed to be operating normally, and a few customers said they hadn't heard of the movement. The same was true at a McDonald's a few blocks away.

The lack of public awareness illustrates the challenge workers face in building wider support. Workers participating in the strikes still represent a tiny fraction of the industry. And the industry is still known for its high turnover rates and relatively young workers.

At a Wendy's in New York City, about 150 workers and supporters stood outside chanting, "We can't survive on $7.25." There were no customers inside.

In Detroit, the dining area of a McDonald's on the city's northwest side was shut down as workers and others protested outside.

In Raleigh, N.C., about 30 fast-food workers picketed outside a Little Caesars. Julio Wilson said he earned $9 an hour at the pizza restaurant, where he has worked for about six months. He said it's not enough to support himself and his 5-year-old daughter.

"I know I'm risking my job, but it's my right to fight for what I deserve," Wilson said. "Nine dollars an hour is not enough to make ends meet nowadays."

A few dozen people gathered along the street outside a McDonald's in Las Vegas, chanting and carrying signs that read "Strike for a living wage" and "Huelga por $15," Spanish for "Strike for $15." But an employee at the restaurants said it stayed open for business throughout the demonstration.

In Seattle, dozens of people gathered outside a Subway to chant for a $15 minimum wage. Workers inside said they stayed open during the demonstration, and customers were still able to buy sandwiches.

The latest protests follow a series of strikes that began last November in New York City. The biggest effort so far was over the summer when about 2,200 of the country's millions of fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven cities.

McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say they don't make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants. At restaurants that McDonald's owns, the company said, any move to raise entry-level pay would raise overall costs and lead to higher menu prices.

It said that McDonald's provides professional development for interested employees and that the protests don't give an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald's.

"We respect our employees' rights to voice their opinions. Employees who participate in these activities and return to work are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts as usual," the company said in an emailed statement.

Wendy's said in statement that it was "proud to provide a place where thousands of people, who come to us asking for a job, can enter the workforce at a starting wage, gain skills and advance with us or move on to something else."

Starbucks spokesman Zack Huston said the strikes have not affected the company's stores. He noted that Starbucks workers earn "competitive wages" and affordable health care that other retailers do not provide for part-time workers.

Subway and Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, did not respond to requests for comment.

Even though they're not part of unions, fast-food workers who take part in strikes are generally protected from being fired or having employers retaliate against them. Federal labor law gives all workers the right to engage in "protected concerted activities" to complain about wages, working conditions or other terms of employment.

"It's always been understood that people who fall under this concerted activity umbrella are protected as long as they are protesting not only on their own behalf but on behalf of others as well," said Robert Kaiser, a St. Louis labor law attorney.

 

Comments

The Big Dog's back

Workers of America, time to unite.

JudgeMeNot

Unite for what? Once again the sheep are being led to the slaughter. OBAMA is using you!

If the minimum wage increased from $7.25 to $15.00 per hour, it would increase operational costs 51.6% forcing many businesses to close. Striking a fast food business for $15. per hour is a joke.

Unabasho

No one expects these wages to more than double from $7.25 to$15.00. This is really about raising the minimum wage, which is totally reasonable, but the allegedly "liberal media," owned by a bunch a greedy selfish republicans, wants to distract from that and make a living wage for the working class sound unreasonable, further dividing American workers against themselves. Stop falling for it, you idiots!

From the Grave

The rest of us should BOYCOTT fast food restaurants for health reasons. I don't care about their jobs or wages.

starryeyes83

$ 15 ?? the fast food chains will close ... many factory workers OR Those working out in the heat and heavy lifting don't get that.

phroggy

They're paid too much as it is. If anything, minimum wage should be reduced by $1/hr. Minimum wage has surpassed the inflation rate while the rest of us actually have to work to earn what we make.

reporter54

Minimum wage workers often have to do more than higher paid workers. Apparently you have never had the privilege to work for less than you deserve. While some minimum wage workers only half-heartedly do their jobs, there are others that are doing twice as much. If you are basing your judgments on fast food workers, you need to do a bit more research. Housekeepers, laundry workers, cashiers, stockers, janitorial and other professions only make minimum wage in many cases. These people work harder than fast food employees. Still I believe they all deserve more money. People on minimum wage can hardly afford a place to live, let alone pay the utilities. So, before you go spouting off, you should walk a mile in their shoes. All minimum wage employees don't live at home with mom, nor are they young people. If you don't think they work, try cleaning 13 motel rooms in 4 hours by yourself. Bet you can't do it.

grandmasgirl

I worked a minimum wage job after my plant closed. I worked hard. I also worked hard when I was paid an above average wage. It's all about your work ethic. Do I think minimum wage earners deserve an increase in pay? Yes, but then you would have to raise the wages of all other workers. I can't see someone working in a factory for $11 or more being happy getting a lower wage than a McDonalds employee.

ladydye_5

I agree. It is work ethic. I worked minimum wage jobs. I worked 3 of them at a time. Front desk jobs, dairy queen jobs, gift shop at a hotel job. Do some (SOME) of them deserve a raise, yes. But to have a wage DOUBLED to 15$ is not reasonable. You do not deserve a raise just because you throw a temper tantrum and stomp your feet.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I don't have a degree in economics but if minimum wage was set to $15/hour wouldn't the prices of everything else correct across the board and leave us exactly where we are today? Wouldn't $15 buy the same amount as $7.X? Then what? Another strike and demand because this time it will work? Australia was brought up in another thread as having that as their minimum wage. I haven't been there, but does Australia have no poverty nor income disparity to the point these strikes are trying to make?

Can anyone help create a thought experiment about what would happen if minimum wage was repealed and employers had to compete for workers?

What I wouldn't give to be in a position of power to ask these questions and get answers on a wider scale. To be able to call up the CEO of Wendy's, Taco Bell, etc. and ask them, "What would you do if there was no minimum wage? What would you do if it were increased to $20/hour with mandatory extras? What can we do to make a more competitive environment and foster growth?"

Have any Reps, Senators, or Presidents done that? I think I remember President Obama inviting CEOs for a conference but did anything come of it?

SamAdams

Google the question. I don't think you'll be surprised to find that, without exception, raising the minimum wage has HURT low income workers, not helped them.

The same principle we now see connected to Obamacare is involved. Obama claimed that Obamacare would decrease health insurance premiums even as it increased options and coverage. As was obvious to anybody with even the most rudimentary education in economics, we now all know that premiums are up; many businesses are decreasing employee hours to avoid paying those higher premiums; doctors are going bankrupt or quitting before they go bankrupt; and medical schools are going begging. Coming your way VERY soon, also as part and parcel of Obamacare: More broke government programs, and higher taxes for one and all. (California might be the best example of just what it's going to mean for all of us eventually because that state is in deep trouble NOW because of all of the entitlements it offers.)

Increase the minimum wage, and prices will increase right along with them so that businesses can afford to pay workers their demanded salaries and still make some kind of a profit. In this instance, demands couldn't be made of a more delicate industry. Restaurant (and grocery) margins are low as it is. Unless you want to pay $8 for a Big Mac, or unless you'd prefer to see still more businesses close their doors, you can't in conscience support such an increase.

Does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy that more people make more money? Sure. But you have to think beyond the demands to the inevitable repercussions (unlike the fast food workers who are currently proving they don't have the intelligence to move into a more lucrative profession).

You've got the right of it when you talk about free market wages. Those who truly work hard, work well, and DESERVE more money would GET more money. Unfortunately, we now live in a country where too many people want nothing to do with equal OPPORTUNITY (because opportunity resembles hard work, apparently), and everything to do with equal REWARDS, deserved or otherwise, and at the expense of everybody else.

deertracker

Explain why a CEO earns millions and millions of dollars. They went to school right? The pay is still ridiculous. Working in fast food does not prove you are not intelligent. You make really ridiculous hate filled comments Sam. You should be ashamed and embarrassed!

SamAdams

The paycheck for many CEOs IS ridiculous! It's on a par with the obscene salaries paid superstar baseball players. The issue, though, is that those people are paid what they're perceived to be worth, and their performance is the gauge. As long as the corporation continues to make decent profits, and as long as the baseball team continues to win before sellout crowds, those folks are going to get paid the big bucks.

You talk about what people deserve to make. Well, these men and women are getting what they DESERVE. How do I figure that? Simple: return on investment. That happens to be true for just about EVERYbody who earns a paycheck. They're paid based on a combination of skill AND how much above and beyond that pay the employer is making. Simple math.

And no, working in fast food doesn't prove you're stupid. It proves you're young and/or unskilled. Demanding $15 an hour to work at McDonald's, however, DOES prove you're stupid. More simple math that apparently they can't perform.

JudgeMeNot

Sam, deerwhaker's pin sized brain cant handle the great info you provide. Of course deerwhaker would be the first in line for a 10 dollar bic mac smiling and wearing his obama 2012 t-shirt.

The New World Czar

If we increased minimum wages to "living wages" for fast-food workers, then we'd end up as a basket-case economy like Spain. Hello 20%+ unemployment!

Pete

Did the SEIU issue 1099's to the paid protesters?

grumpy

I doubt any of them were paid the $600 that would require the 1099. The SEIU is too cheap.

The Big Dog's back

Wow! The right wingers getting their bullspit right out of the koch brothers playbook.

The New World Czar

Wow! When it comes to career fast-food employees, it really hits home with you, doesn't it?

Richard Bebb

I guess if they want a higher paying job then they should have done better in school.

Eph 2 8-10

AMEN!

deertracker

I bet the fast food workers with college degrees may think differently!

Richard Bebb

Ok, I bet the 0.7% of fast food workers with college degrees wish they had picked a better major - the liberal arts or art history degree obviously ain't cutting it.

arnmcrmn

Exactly. A degree in liberal arts with a minor in critical thinking just doesn't cut it these days. To the hundreds of thousands of kids going to college for a business degree....don't be upset when you are working at Rite Aid behind the counter when you graduate.

PTBarnumWouldBeProud

Just curious "Big Dog"....is there any sort of salary ceiling for unskilled labor? Should someone who has made no effort to educate themselves beyond the "minimum daily requirement" or worse, didn't even finish school, be paid a wage equal to someone who is a skilled laborer? You can't be serious. You've got to take off the myopic beer goggles once in a while. You're going to start bumping into things.

Nemesis

Dog's world has no room for individual responsibility, except the responsibility of 1% to take care of the other 99%

Fromthe419

This whole discussion is all about a failed currency policy. When our government tells us inflation is only 2 percent per year (minus food and energy I might add), do you know the result of 2 percent inflation over 30 years? It devalues the dollar by 50 percent. It is time for all Americans to unite together as Big Dog stated and get on the side of real Americans and end the Fed. I would think conservatives and liberals can all agree that a monetary policy based on nothing (fiat currency) is the problem. With a stable currency, inflation and devaluation of the dollar does not occur. I know many progressives consider JFK to be a great President, google Executive Order 10010, JFK wanted to end the Federal Reserve/Central Bank and fractional reserved banking system and alas, he was assassinated 6 months later.

Fromthe419

I might add that Nixon ended the Bretton Woods agreement in 1971 that essentially made the dollar a fiat currency, what happened from 2001 to 2008? We faced financial armageddon, well within the time frame that was predicted. We now depend on the Fed purchasing T notes and mortgage backed securities to the tune of 85B per month to make our financial system work. Look how the markets react everytime a "taper" is mentioned. Wall St is hooked on QE like Huron County is hooked on heroin. In the end, the banks will fail, we will bail them out Cyprus style and any wealth we have will go to the banks and we'll all be out of our homes. I hope and pray those on the left and right wake up and realize the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was the biggest hoax ever pulled on the American public.

SamAdams

You're right. Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) was a champion for an "End the Fed" bill. It's my understanding that his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, has also taken up that banner. It's well worth supporting!

Fromthe419

I agree Sam, all of this talk about raising minimum wage is a result of a failed monetary policy. Devaluation of the dollar leaves those on the bottom of the working sector behind and hence they need wage increases just to keep up with inflation. The economic system is a sham, print, borrow spend and what do you get? 17T in debt and no hope of ever paying it off, gridlock in government as they struggle to keep the status quo.

Pages