Fast-Food workers call for nationwide strike Aug. 29

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Pre-Labor Day walkout expected to be largest ever to hit the $200 billion industry

Fast food workers striking for higher pay and the right to form a union without retaliation outside a St. Louis area McDonald's.  Labor Tribune photo
Fast food workers striking for higher pay and the right to form a union without retaliation outside a St. Louis area McDonald's.
Labor Tribune photo

Fast-food and retail workers from eight cities are calling on low-wage workers around the country to join them in a national day of strikes on August 29.

The workers, who in recent months have been standing up for higher wages and going on strike for a better future for their families and communities, are fighting for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation or unfair labor practices.

The pre-Labor Day strike is expected to hit major national fast-food companies like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Retail workers at stores like Macy’s, Sears and Dollar Tree are expected to join the strikes in some cities.

"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 a recent interview 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.

TIME TO PAY UP

“It’s wrong for big corporations to make billions of dollars in profits and pay millions of dollars to their CEOs, while us workers barely scrape by on minimum wage,” said Latrice Arnold, a 27-year-old mother of two who earns Michigan’s minimum wage of $7.40 an hour at a Detroit Wendy’s where she has worked for two years. “It’s time for these big fast-food and retail companies to pay up. They can afford to pay us more and have a responsibility to ensure the workers who keep their businesses booming don’t live in poverty.”

The workers who went on strike earlier this year in eight cities – New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Seattle, Kansas City and Flint – unveiled an online toolkit (http://lowpayisnotok.org/strike-kit/)to help workers around the country join the pre-Labor Day strike for $15.

The strike will take 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.

$200 BILLION A YEAR INDUSTRY

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.

Companies like McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy’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 month by the National Employment Law Project reveals managerial positions make up just 2.2 percent of all jobs in the industry, proving that fast food jobs are not the "launching pad" industry officials would like Americans to believe. Likewise, the industry’s claim that its workers are teenagers is simply not backed by fact. The median age in the fast-food industry is older than 28 and more than one-quarter of fast-food workers are raising at least one child.

MOVEMENT GROWING VIA SOCIAL MEDIA

The movement of fast-food workers fighting for $15 an hour got started in New York City last November with a strike by 200 workers. Backed by labor, community and clergy allies, it quickly spread around the country, with strikes in New York and seven additional cities in the spring and summer. As a result of those walkouts, workers from dozens of cities across the United States have been getting in touch via Facebook, lowpayisnotok and through the websites of the campaigns, leading workers in the eight cities to issue the call for them to join the pre-Labor day walkout.

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. Recognizing this economic reality, editorial boards from the New York Times,  the New York Daily News, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Baltimore Sun, the  Boston Globe, the Toldeo Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have all backed the workers’ campaign.

The Times wrote, “Fast-food workers are fighting back, in just cause,” and predicted, rightly so, that strikes "are almost certain to continue" if corporations do not raise workers’ pay.

The upcoming strikes will be the latest in an escalating series of walkouts by low-wage workers across the country. Federally-contracted workers in Washington have walked off their jobs; a growing number of Walmart workers have gone on strike; and carwash workers have also walked out.

The workers who issued the Aug. 29 strike call are part of Fast Food Forward, Fight for 15, STL Can't Survive on $7.35, D-15, Raise up Milwaukee, Strike Poverty-Raise Seattle, Stand Up KC and Flint-15.

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