Tens of Thousands of Fast-Food Workers Stage 1-Day Strike

Retail workers in Chicago join the protest of low-wage workers nationwide, marching through the Macy’s store in the city’s fancy Water Tower Place.  Photo by Michael Utrecht, a Chicago labor activist, via Twitter

Retail workers in Chicago join the protest of low-wage workers nationwide, marching through the Macy’s store in the city’s fancy Water Tower Place.
Photo by Michael Utrecht, a Chicago labor activist, via Twitter

From Austin to Chicago, from New York to San Diego, tens of thousands of fast food workers nationwide – along with some retail workers – staged a 1-day strike August 29 for higher pay, respect on the job and the right to organize into unions without management interference.

Their walkouts closed McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and other fast food chains in 60 cities from coast to coast, and occurred both in pro-worker metropolises such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles and even in less-friendly environments such as three Texas cities.

The workers demanded pay of $15 an hour – most receive the $7.25 hourly federal minimum or slightly more – and recognition of their right to unionize.  Unions and their leaders enthusiastically backed the walkout, and many joined the picket lines.

“This is a sign of things to come,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared in a breakfast meeting with reporters, arranged by the Christian Science Monitor.   The striking fast-food workers “are a vanguard for a change in the economy.  There is growing momentum with different groups of workers saying, ‘We’ve had enough.’”

“They’re saying ‘the economy is not working for us,’ and the vast majority of Americans agree with that.  They” – the fast food workers – “are the vanguard.  And if they want a voice on the job, we’ll find a way to help them.”

In Chicago, 200 workers striking the Rock ‘n Roll McDonald’s in the Loop drew supporters from the Service Employees and the Chicago Teachers Union.  Retail workers at Macy’s in Water Tower Place on fancy North Michigan Avenue joined the walkout, too.

Good Jobs LA reported the protests began at 6 a.m. at a Burger King there with dozens of workers carrying signs saying “Burgers and Lies” and “Yo Quiero $15.”  New York fast food workers paraded through Manhattan carrying signs demanding a living wage.   In Detroit, workers resurrected their “D15” campaign.

“I want people to see what’s behind the counter of these restaurants,” Jose Avila, a 22-year-old Subway shop worker in Houston who dropped out of college for financial reasons, told the Texas Tribune.  He makes $7.75 hourly, slightly more than the minimum wage.

“We’re not making it with minimum wage anymore,” Avila added.  To save money, Avila still lives with his mother in a 1-bedroom apartment, and walks a mile and a half to work each way –- to save bus fare.

“The median hourly wage for fast workers employed by corporations like McDonald’s, KFC and Taco Bell is $8.94 nationally,” one of the workers’ lead organizations, lowpayisnotok.org, said on its website.

“It’s an unjustifiable situation – especially when you consider that the industry is taking in $200 billion a year while many of its workers can’t even come close to making ends meet on the poverty wages they are paid.  Fast food workers are taking to the streets to stand up for the work they do and demand a living wage.”

A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of fast food workers in Los Angeles highlighted the disparity between what they earn and what they need.  MIT reported most of the workers there earn California’s minimum wage of $8 an hour, or slightly more.  But a single adult with one child must earn $23.53 hourly, full-time, “to afford the basics in Los Angeles,” the study said.

And it’s not just kids flipping burgers after school who are demanding the living wage.  A majority of fast-food workers are adults, with most supporting families.  One worker at a prior D.C. walkout gave his age as 55 and wondered what he would have to live on after retirement.

“It’s not livable,” Tyree Johnson, a 21-year McDonald’s employee in Chicago, told the Huffington Post about his employer’s pay.  “I still make $8 an hour.”

The major cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, the Twin Cities and San Diego were not the only walkout sites.  Fast food workers also walked out in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, Texas; Oakland, Fremont, Hayward, Newark, Richmond, San Francisco, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Berkeley, and Alameda, Calif.; Atlanta; and Denver, Northglenn and Aurora, Colo.;

Fast food workers also were forced to strike in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and Ballwin, Mo; East St. Louis, Peoria, Belleville, Springfield and Bloomington, Ill; Detroit, Lansing, Pontiac and Flint, Mich.; Gretna, La.; Hartford, West Haven and Manchester, Conn., Boston; Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Indianapolis; Las Vegas and North Las Vegas; Wausau, Madison and Milwaukee, Wis.; Memphis, Tenn.; Missoula, Mont.; New Orleans; Phoenix, Ariz.; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; Tampa, Fla.; Topeka, Kansas; and Wilmington, Del.

“Boosting wages for America’s lowest-paid workers is a crucial step toward reducing economic inequality and rebuilding a strong economy.  Perhaps 50 years from now, we’ll look back on the fast-food workers’ fight as the catalyst we so desperately needed,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project told wire services.