Fast-food workers in seven cities join forces for unprecedented week of strikes
Compiled by Courier Staff
Joining forces, thousands of low-wage workers walked off their jobs this week in an unprecedented wave of strikes in seven cities across the country. Workers who went on strike in the spring in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and Milwaukee joined by fast-food workers in Kansas City and Flint, as the fight for $15, the right to form a union without retaliation and the end of unfair labor practices gets bigger, bolder and stronger.
Beginning July 29, workers walked off their jobs at some of the most prominent national fast-food chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC. Retail workers at stores like Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and Dollar Tree are expected to join the strikes in some cities. The walkouts are extended through Thursday.
In Milwaukee on Thursday, Community organizations who participated included: Wisconsin Jobs Now, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 9to5, League of Young Voters, MICAH (Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, African American Roundtable and Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.
“When you make minimum wage, you don’t have a heck of a lot to lose by speaking out,” said Kareem Starks, a McDonald’s worker in Brooklyn. “But remaining silent is not an option because it’s nearly impossible to survive on $7.25 an hour.”
Inspired by the courageous actions of workers like Kareem, dozens of clergy, community, and labor organizations around the country are stepping up their 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, Action Now, 99 Pastors and Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 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.
“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 down benefit standards for working people,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU. “That’s why SEIU members are proud to give support to fast food and retail workers who are fighting for higher wages that will boost the economy for all of us.”
Several national labor groups across the country are supporting the campaign. Change to Win is providing research and communications support. An array of local labor groups representing workers ranging from grocery clerks to teachers to teamsters are also backing the workers’ campaigns in each city.
“It’s unacceptable that right now, our fastest-growing jobs don’t pay enough for workers to afford rent, food and clothes,” said Bob King, UAW president. “If our economy is going to recover, profitable corporations should pay their workers a living wage, and that’s exactly what these workers are demanding by uniting.”
National elected leaders, including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are also backing the workers’ efforts. CPC co-chair Keith Ellison (D-MN) is among those who plan to join the strike lines in many of the cities as part of their “Raise Up America” campaign.
“The American economy is big enough to work for everyone,” Rep. Ellison said. “I am proud to stand next to brave workers who are fighting to be paid a living wage. In the richest nation in the world, a full day’s work should mean you can pay for food, housing and health care for your family.”
The strikes come on a the heels of a national wave of low-wage worker walkouts, including a strike by federally-contracted workers in Washington, DC, strikes last month by Walmart workers, walkouts by fast-food workers in Seattle, Detroit, St. Louis and New York and combined fast-food and retail worker strikes in Chicago and Milwaukee.
“We’re all struggling with the same low wages and erratic scheduling, so it is only natural for us to join together to make the strongest statement possible,” said Martin Rafanan, director of STL $7.35, who convened the call. “By taking action with workers from St. Louis to New York, workers will compel highly-profitable fast-food and retail companies to listen to their voices.”
Low-wage jobs have accounted for the bulk of new jobs added in the recovery, and retail and fast food are among the fastest-growing sectors. Economists, elected leaders and others are citing evidence that stagnating wages and the proliferation of low-wage jobs are hampering the nation’s recovery:
In a recent speech, Federal Reserve Board Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin suggested the types of jobs being created are slowing the recovery. “Those jobs will directly affect the fortunes and challenges of households and neighborhoods as well as the course of the recovery,” she said.
And marking the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act last month, Vice President Joe Biden said that raising the minimum wage would not only help 15 million Americans afford their groceries, but lift the economy overall. “Think of the impact that will have on the economy… a little extra money in the hands of so many consumers.”
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.
Just last week, McDonald’s came under heat when a video challenged the fuzzy math on its own financial planning website, launching a national conversation about the explosion of minimum wage work. Even while ignoring important expenses like food and gas and suggesting workers get a second job, the budget by McDonald’s assumes a worker needs to make about $15 an hour just to scrape by.
Companies like McDonald’s, Burger King and Domino’s have said that their low-wage jobs are stepping stones to better ones, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. A report released last week by the National Employment Law Project, Going Nowhere Fast, debunks the industry’s claim that its low-wage jobs are paths to higher-paying managerial positions or opportunities to eventually own and operate a fast-food franchise. The report, which shows managerial positions make up just 2.2 percent of all jobs in the industry, clearly shows fast food jobs are not the “launching pad” company officials would like Americans to believe.
“While the industry argues that front line jobs are a stepping stone to a brighter future for its employees, that’s more myth than reality for most fast food workers,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “The truth is, millions of fast-food workers will never have an opportunity to move beyond front line jobs. That’s why it’s so critical that instead of empty promises of future possibilities, the industry act to ensure that the jobs most fast food workers occupy provide the wages and benefits workers need to support themselves and their families.”