Fast Food Workers Walk Out Nationwide

By Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer, Barbara Kucera of Workday Minnesota, and John Wojcik, Teresa Albano and Roberta Wood of the People’s World

Fast food workers walked out on Sept. 4, leaving jobs at McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Domino’s and Wendy’s restaurants in more than 150 cities.  They demand a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to organize without employer interference, firing, harassment and labor law-breaking.  In some cities, home health care workers joined them.

Walkouts occurred in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, the Twin Cities and 145 other sites.  For the first time, workers walked out in Little Rock, Ark., Rochester, N.Y., and Tucson, Ariz., among other cities.

In line with a decision at their nationwide convention in Chicago earlier this year, the workers also engaged in peaceful civil disobedience to dramatize their plight and mistreatment by the profitable chains.  Some two dozen workers were arrested in Chicago on Sept. 4, along with 52 in Detroit, 21 in New York City and several in Little Rock, among other cities.

The walkout was the latest in a series of 1-day fast food worker protests that began in New York in late 2012.  Supported by national unions, the workers demand decent wages and working hours and the right to organize.  At the Chicago meeting earlier this year, the fast food workers also voted to form their own union.

Most fast food workers make at or near the federal minimum wage of $7.25 hourly.  They average $8.69 hourly nationwide, but often earn less due to wage theft.  University of California labor researchers estimate 87 percent of fast food workers receive no health benefits from their employer.  More than half of fast food workers must seek food stamps and other public assistance to feed their families.

In contrast, the CEO of McDonald’s makes more than $9,000 an hour, according to analysis by the personal finance website, NerdWallet.

In turn, the fast food workers are part of a larger nationwide movement of low-wage workers – retail workers, “independent contractor” truckers, warehouse workers, Wal-Mart workers and others – who have had it with the low wages, no benefits and lousy working conditions employers force upon them.

They’ve hit the streets, raising the visibility of the yawning chasm between the 1 percent, which includes fast food CEOs, and everyone else.

In the Twin Cities, at 6 a.m., about a dozen strikers and scores of supporters marched to the McDonald’s at 1440 Stinson Blvd. in Minneapolis, filling the restaurant.

“A lot of us work really hard and we don’t get paid enough,” worker Washington Griffin told the crowd.  Added fellow worker Eneida Jaimes: “I am fighting for my daughters’ futures. I want them to be able to go to college and for that I need to be paid more than poverty wages.”

In Chicago, more than 20 workers were arrested outside a McDonald’s on the city’s South Side.  More than 450 workers demonstrated outside the 87th Street McDonald’s for several hours before marching out onto South Wabash Avenue.  Once in the streets many linked arms and sat down in front of the store to make their point about the necessity of a living wage.  Police arrested them for refusing an order to move.

Douglas Hunter, 53, who works in maintenance for a West Side McDonald’s, said that “We shouldn’t be scratching and scraping every day just to get by.”  He added: “How can I pay $750 rent and raise my 16 year-old daughter on that?” he asked of his $9.25 hourly wage after six years on the job.  “After bills I have $25 left for the two of us to live on for a whole week — and this is back-to-school time.”

“I had to raise my kids on $8 an hour,” added Cecelia Carella, 47, as she rolled up her left sleeve to show an arm covered with burns and scars she said she got from working with the fryers. “Only recently,” she said, “when all the protests started, they raised us up to $9.25.”

The normally busy South Side McDonald’s, which handles a brisk rush-hour breakfast crowd, was almost devoid of customers from 6 a.m.-10 a.m.  The few who came in supported the workers.  “I am glad they have had an impact on the business,” said Hammond Carter, a retiree drinking a cup of coffee. “You can’t live on what they pay, especially if you got kids.”

The protests drew notice from prominent politicians, all Democrats.  President Barack Obama praised the workers in a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., leading congressional champion of their cause, addressed the crowd in Minneapolis.  Earlier this year, fast food worker pressure led Seattle to adopt a $15 hourly living wage law.

“All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity,” Obama said.  “If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union.  I’d want a union looking out for me.”

Ellison called the inequity in pay “unacceptable.”  He declared that “people should be paid so that if you are working fulltime, you are not living in poverty.”

Workers from McDonald’s in Argentina and Brazil showed up in solidarity in Chicago. Francis Cabrera, who has worked for almost three years at a McDonald’s in Buenos Aires, said, “I’m here to support my brothers and sisters in the United States, and to say that if we can have a union in Argentina they should be able to have one here in the U.S.

“If you work for McDonald’s in my country you are also in the union and you get paid sick days, vacation, holidays, maternity and paternity leave and profit sharing. Why not the same for my brothers and sisters here?” he asked. Brazilian Jadir Rafael, representing that nation’s Fast Food Workers confederation, made the same points.