On Thursday, May 15th of 2014 fast food workers from all around the world will protest for fair wages and safer working conditions. Specific goals of the strike for each individual country vary slightly, but the consensus is for better pay and working conditions. This protest will involve many countries and a countless number of industry workers; these statistics fuel the prediction of this being the largest fast food strike in history. However, based upon many other strikes of this nature and their failure, as well as industry leader sentiments on the movement, it is not guaranteed that this particular strike will grab the attention of industry leaders, making fruition of the strike’s goals unlikely and change within the industry far-reaching.
The United States’ fast food industry is the largest industry in the country, though it has the most workers at poverty level. The federal minimum wage- $7.25 an hour- is what most fast food workers are currently paid, with some states paying slightly higher due to personal minimum wage laws. Fast food workers within America are protesting their poverty-level wages, asking for an increase to $15 per hour, as well as the right to unionize without being reprimanded in any way, including feeling retaliated against. Sentiments from the industry’s leaders are unenthusiastic when speaking about the strikes.
A McDonald’s spokeswoman noted that 80 percent of McDonald’s franchise is run by small business owners, meaning many individual restaurants are privately owned and operated, which would make paying workers a $15 minimum difficult and often times impossible. She also mentioned that these individual establishments comply with local and federal laws- this could also make it difficult for workers in certain regions to be paid the wage that they are requesting. Many factors disrupt the efforts of employees within the fast food industry, which will likely ultimately not change the industry in the way the current employees desire.
When union-involved employees go on strike their places of employment try to cover the shifts that the striking workers will miss and carry on business as usual, making it hard to believe that many of these operations take the complaints of employees seriously. However, McDonald’s does not work with any specific union; the company instead claims to advocate for open conversations between employees and managers or owners. The company’s website insists that it does not stop its employees from joining a union, but this does not speak for all of the fast food industry.
The strike started small, with individual lawsuits to McDonald’s and hundreds of workers walking out of their fast food jobs to raise awareness in New York. However, the lawsuits and small strikes continued, which has led to what will happen on Thursday, May 15th. McDonald’s has been a main target for the strike, currently combating seven class action lawsuits and has been allegedly accused of forcing employees to pay for uniforms and meticulously watching hours and earnings in order to force employees to wait to clock in after their scheduled shift, simultaneously cutting wage earnings and saving on labor dollars.
It is yet to be seen whether or not this strike will in fact spark the desired change within the industry, or if the efforts will be wasted on the likely dismissive and largely unsympathetic fast food industry leaders. McDonald’s has a very pointed way of doing business and is largely operated individually, hurting the abilities of employees to gain a living wage from the monster business. It is quite possible that other restaurant companies, such as Taco Bell and Wendy’s will listen to the plea of employees, though that is also yet to be determined.
Opinion by Courtney Heitter