Protests demand higher wages for fast food employees.
Fast-food worker strikes to demand higher wages that started in New York eight months ago have spread now to Midwestern cities, including Chicago and Washington and this week has hit St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit and Flint, Mich., the New York Times reported.
Thousands of fast-food workers have been holding one-day strikes during peak mealtimes, to draw national attention to their demands for pay of $15 an hour—twice what many now earn.
The national campaign, underwritten with millions of dollars from the Service Employees International Union (S.E.I.U.), is attempting to mobilize workers across the U.S. simultaneously at hundreds of restaurants from two dozen chains. None of the nation’s 200,000-plus fast-food restaurants are unionized.
Just how the organizers aim to accomplish its demands are unclear. Strategists speculate they could seek to unionize workers at dozens of restaurants, while some labor leaders say the high turnover rate among fast-food employees (75% a year) makes that improbably. Strikers might also press city councils to enact a special “living wage” for fast-food restaurants. Or by continually disrupting the fast-food marketplace from counter to counter across the country, they could pressure McDonald’s, KFC and others to raise wages, the New York Times reported.
The protests’ organizers have acknowledged that another goal is to push Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and pressure state legislatures to raise the state minimums.
In explaining why her union is pouring dozens of organizers and significant sums into the effort, Mary Kay Henry, the S.E.I.U. president, told the New York Times, “Our union’s members think that economic inequality is the No. 1 problem our nation needs to solve. We think it’s important to back low-wage workers who are willing to stand up and have the courage to strike to make the case that the economy is creating jobs that people can’t support their families on.”
Restaurant industry officials noted that the strikers’ demand for $15 an hour is ludicrous because it amounts to more than twice the federal minimum wage. The median pay for fast-food workers nationwide is $9.05 an hour. Industry officials say a $15 wage might drive many restaurants out of business and cause restaurant owners to hire fewer workers or replace some with automation, such as touchscreens.
Scott DeFife, executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association told the New York Times that the one-day walkouts were not really strikes, but public-relations-minded protests that have caused very few restaurants to close. “It is an effort to demonize the entire industry in order to make some organizing and political points,” he said, adding that only a small percentage of restaurant jobs pay the minimum wage. He said most of those positions were held by workers younger than 25.