By SHERI GASSAWAY
Hundreds of St. Louis fast food workers walked off the job April 14 to take part in protests across the area demanding $15 an hour and union representation.
About 150 people – many arriving in busses – attended an early morning demonstration in front of the McDonald’s at Natural Bridge Avenue and Kingshighway Boulevard. The boisterous crowd held signs and banners and recited chants all too familiar to those in the Labor Movement.
“When working families are under attack, what do we do?” the protesters shouted. “Stand up and fight back.”
St. Louis City police were on hand at the event, mainly to ensure protesters did not step onto the street impeding traffic. Throughout the rally, motorists on Natural Bridge honked in support of the effort as they drove by, further inciting the crowd.
Joining fast food employees at the early morning demonstration were other low wage workers, including those in the child care, hospital and home care industries. Rallies were also held throughout the day at Teachers Loving Children Daycare on Chippewa Street and at the McDonald’s at 1420 Hampton Ave.
Rallies were also held at St. Louis University Hospital, where about 600 SEIU members at St. Louis University Hospital have been in contract negotiations with SSM Health since January, and at Washington University, where adjunct faculty celebrated the victory of winning their first union contract.
PART OF A WORLDWIDE EFFORT
The local rallies, organized by the St. Louis chapter of Fight for $15, were part of a coordinated April 14 effort by Fight for $15 calling all on employers to provide living wages to their employees. Fast food workers participated in a 24-hour strike and held protests across the nation and overseas
The Fight for $15 campaign began in 2012 in New York City with a few hundred fast food workers striking for $15 an hour in pay and union rights. It has since evolved into a movement in more than 300 cities across six continents representing all low wage employees.
Bettie Douglas, a leader of the St. Louis chapter of Fight for $15 and a member of the group’s national organizing committee, spoke during the early morning rally. Douglas has worked at the McDonald’s at 1420 Hampton Ave for eight years and only makes $7.90 an hour. She has no benefits with the company and receives no public assistance.
“McDonald’s is the second largest employer in the world, and for me to make $7.90 an hour is ridiculous,” Douglas said. “I have to choose between eating and paying a bill, and it’s not fair. We’re in America. There’s no excuse for us to be living the way we’re living.”
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Frances Holmes, an employee at the McDonald’s at 4 S. Old Orchard Ave. in Webster Groves, said she also struggles between paying rent and being able to eat. The 53-year-old, who lives in a boarding house, has worked at the restaurant nearly two years.
“In order for me to survive, sometimes I eat, and other times I don’t,” Holmes told the Labor Tribune during the rally. “McDonald’s makes billions of dollars and should be able to afford to pay people a living wage. A lot of people think fast food workers are kids in school, but we represent all ages.”
Akil Poynter, who worked at the McDonald’s at Lindbergh Boulevard and New Halls Ferry Road in Florissant, is also a leader of the Fight for $15 Movement in St. Louis.
“I’ve been a part of the group in St. Louis for three years and have never missed a strike or rally,” said Poynter, 22. “I’m out here to prove a point. Fast food workers deserve a living wage and the opportunity to participate in society just like everyone else.”
FIGHT FOR $15