Fed up with low wages, fast-food workers strike in 60 cities, Part 1

Thousands of fast-food workers in 60 cities walked off their jobs Thursday in the largest-ever strike to hit the $200 billion fast food industry — septupling the number of cities from earlier walkouts. Workers went on strike in every region of the continental United States, as the fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation or unfair labor practices continued to gain steam.

“When I saw the strikes on TV earlier this summer in New York and Chicago, I said to my co-workers, ‘we need to bring this to Durham,’” said Willieta Dukes, a 39-year-old Burger King worker in North Carolina.

“And now we’ve brought the fight for $15 and a union not just to Durham, but to every corner of the country. The more of us who join together, the more powerful we are.”

Thursday’s strike hit nearly 1,000 major national fast-food restaurants, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC. In Seattle, coffee baristas joined in for the first time. Retail workers at stores like Macy’s, Sears, Victoria’s Secret and Walgreens also went on strike in some cities.

The nationwide strike follows fast-food and retail worker strikes earlier this year in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Seattle, Kansas City and Flint.

“The fast food restaurant industry is terrified that these [strikes] will spread to other cities,” Wall Street Journal editorial board member Steve Moore said in an interview earlier this month on WSJ Live.

But the industry has done nothing to address the concerns of its workers, who earn minimum wage or just above it and feel they have little to lose by coming together to demand higher pay.

“Today, our call for $15 an hour and a union was heard across the country,” said Devonte Yates, a McDonald’s worker from Milwaukee. “If the fast-food industry doesn’t want our movement to spread any further, it should pay us enough so that we can support ourselves and our families.”

The strike took place the day after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which sought to “give all Americans a decent standard of living” and called for a minimum wage of $2 per hour. Adjusted for inflation, that would equal $15.26 an hour today.

Fast food is a $200 billion a year industry and retail is a $4.7 trillion industry, yet many service workers across the country earn minimum wage or just above it and are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get healthcare for their children. Nationally, the median wage for cooks, cashiers and crew at fast food restaurants is just $8.94 an hour.

“Raising wages for low-wage workers is an economic necessity for communities all across the country,” said Pastor W.J. Rideout III of All God’s People Church and the Inter-Faith Coalition of Pastors in Detroit. “The only way to get our economy going again is to put more money in the hands of consumers. These striking workers are the best stimulus our economy could have.”

The Inter-Faith Coalition is one of hundreds of clergy, community, and labor organizations around the country lending support and resources to the workers.

The campaigns are being run on the ground by local labor-community-clergy alliances led by groups like New York Communities for Change, Jobs with Justice, and Citizen Action of Wisconsin. The Service Employees International Union is providing financial and technical support to the campaigns and is lending staff to help train organizers on the ground in each of the cities.

Part 2, will be in next week’s paper.