Fight for $15 and a union intensifies

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Civil Disobedience
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE: Members of St. Louis’s Show Me $15 coalition of fast-food workers exercised civil disobedience by blocking a street in Nashville in support of their fellow fast-food workers fighting for a living wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. – Josh Kersting photo

St. Louis fast food workers join strikes in NYC, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock

St. Louis – Twenty-one St. Louis fast-food workers – wearing their uniforms from restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s – were among the more than 500 cooks, cashiers and maintenance workers arrested Sept. 4 as the fight for $15 and the right to form a union intensified across the country.

With deference to the community of Ferguson and the desire for peace after recent events, St. Louis fast-food workers, organized as Show Me $15, took their fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation on the road last week, joining strike actions in New York City, Nashville, Memphis and Little Rock.

“We decided to join workers in other cities on the strike lines out of respect for our community and its desire to continue to heal,” said LaShunda Moore, who earns $7.95 at McDonalds in St. Louis and was one of the workers arrested. “We're absolutely as committed as ever to doing whatever it takes to win because we are struggling to survive. McDonald’s left us with no choice but to turn up our call for $15 and union rights, and that’s what we did.”

LaShunda Moore
MOORE

From Charleston, SC to Chicago, Ill., workers walked off their jobs and took arrest to show that they can’t wait any longer for companies like McDonald’s to raise their pay. Workers went on strike at more than 1,000 stores, chanting “We Believe That We Will Win,” and vowing to do whatever it takes to secure higher wages and union rights.

Mike Wilkes, 29, and Xavior Smith, 24, workers at the McDonald’s at 4006 Lindell Blvd., also stepped up to support their fellow low-wage workers.

“We need $15 and equal rights of a union for fast food workers so we can come to an agreement with these corporations for a steady pay rate and hours for workers,” Smith said.

‘JUST BECAUSE THEY CAN’

Andre Gillion, 34, who has worked at Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken at 5023 Natural Bridge Rd. for 10 years, said change is needed so workers can get raises and move up, rather than being stuck at the same low wages.

Fast Food 2
WILKES and SMITH

“It’s ridiculous how they treat you just because they can,” Gillion said. “That’s why we need a union. Nobody wants to stay at the same level start to finish.”

Myiesha Harris, 18, who works at the McDonald’s at 4420 S. Broadway, said she is fighting for a raise in the minimum wage and to support hre fellow workers who are affected by low wages.

COMPANIES ARE IN CONTROL

Gillion
GILLION

Last week’s strike action came a little more than a month after the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel determined that, despite McDonald’s repeated claims, the company is a joint employer that exerts substantial power over its employees’ working conditions.

For nearly two years, as fast-food workers have joined together going on strike to call for $15 and the right to form a union, McDonald’s and other industry players have tried to sidestep workers’ calls, inventing a make-believe world in which responsibility for wages and working conditions falls squarely only on the shoulders of franchisees, not the corporations that control how food is served and priced.

As fast-food giants and other low-wage employers have pushed down real wages for average working Americans, a growing number of economists havae warned that low wages are creating a barrier to growth that is hurting the overall U.S. economy.

MAJOR BLOW TO CHAINS

Harris
HARRIS

Last month, the California state legislature passed a bill that expands the rights of franchisees statewide and brings greater balance to the franchisor-franchisee relationship. Huffington Post wrote that the fast-food industry “lost a really big fight,” while MSNBC called the bill a “major blow” to fast-food chains.

By protecting franchisees from being put out of business arbitrarily and ensuring they can sell to qualified buyers, the legislature took a critical step toward correcting the imbalance of power between franchisors and the franchisees and workers who contribute to the success of fast-food restaurants in California.

STOLEN WAGES

Not only do fast-food jobs pay so little that a majority of industry workers are forced to rely on public assistance, but many workers don’t even see all of the money they earn. In addition to the class-action suits filed against McDonald’s alleging widespread and systematic wage theft, a poll by Hart research showed 89 percent of fast-food workers have had money stolen from their checks.

The fast-food worker campaign has fast-food companies back on their heels. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, McDonald’s said worker protests might force it to raise wages this year.

GROWING MOVEMENT

St Louis Arkansas
STANDING TOGETHER: St. Louis and Arkansas fast-food workers protesting Sept. 4 in Little Rock. – Emily Koehler/Show Me $15 photo

The fast-food workers’ campaign, which started when 200 workers walked off their jobs in New York City in November 2012, has since spread to more than 150 cities in every region of the country, elevating the debate about inequality.

Since the campaign launched, nearly 7 million low-wage workers have seen their wages rise.

What seemed like a far-fetched goal – $15 an hour –is now a reality in Seattle, where Bloomberg News said the city adopted “the rallying cry of fast-food workers.”

As it spreads, the movement is challenging fast-food companies’ outdated notion that their workers are teenagers looking for pocket change. Today’s workers are mothers and fathers struggling to raise children on wages that are too low. And they’re showing the industry that if it doesn’t raise pay, it will continue to be at the center of the national debate on what’s wrong with our economy

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