Last week, fast-food workers staged another nationwide demonstration in 60 U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit; it was the largest protest yet for higher wages in a 10-month campaign.
Similar protests took place in April at 70 of New York City’s McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Yum Brands-owned Pizza Hut and KFC locations.
The current median pay for the nearly 50,000 fast food workers in New York City is $9 an hour, or $18,500 a year. That’s about $4,500 lower than Census Bureau’s poverty income threshold level of $23,000 for a family of four.
Protesting workers want the right to unionize without interference from employers and an increase in pay amounting to $15 an hour.
Some members of Congress have proposed a modest increase in the federal minimum wage, but only to $9 an hour. The striking workers are part of a coalition of unions, campaign groups, clergy and community members.
Terrance Wise, 34, a father of three who works two jobs at Burger King and Pizza Hut in Kansas City, told the Guardian twice as many people took part in last week’s action than a previous strike in the summer. Wise said he was striking in support of a $15-an-hour wage, but also for “respect.”
“We don’t have a voice,” said Wise, who is paid $9.25 an hour at Burger King and $7.40 at Pizza Hut.
A New York-based group called Fast Food Forward, part of the national movement of low-wage workers fighting for a better wages, wrote an open letter to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s, pointing out the gross inequality between the profits made by fast-food companies and the wages they pay.
It read: “Last year, your combined profits were $7.35 billion. Yet you still paid most of your workers less than $11,200 a year – a poverty wage. It’s shameful and outrageous.”
Fast Food Forward said workers were still being targeted for organizing, including having jobs terminated and hours reduced.
“The fast-food workers are fighting for all of us,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union. “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.”
In a statement, Bill Thorne, the senior vice-president of the National Retail Federation said:
“Retail and restaurant jobs are good jobs, held by millions of working men and women, who are proud of what they do for their customers and the communities they serve across America. The planned walkout is the result of a multi-year effort by big labor to diminish and disparage these hard-working Americans by attacking the companies they work for.”
McDonald’s claims pay starts at minimum wage but the range goes higher, depending on the employee’s position and experience level, and said that raising entry-level wages would mean higher overall costs, which could result in higher prices on menus.
“That would potentially have a negative impact on employment and business growth in our restaurants, as well as value for our customers,” the company said.
What McDonald’s, and other fast-food companies fail to mention is that when the “government supplements egregiously low wages with benefits like food stamps, the companies don’t have to pay living wages. So in effect, taxes are used to support corporate margins.”