Hundreds of fast-food workers on Thursday joined organized labor strikes and rallies in different cities across the U.S. to demand for higher wages. The protesters demanded that the federal minimum wage be increased to $15 per hour from $7.25 per hour. They said that the current minimum wage is not enough to support themselves and their families.
About 100 fast-food workers in New York City blew whistles and beat drums to dramatize their demand while picketing in front of a McDonald’s restaurant. Fast-food workers are earning on an average $8.89 per hour. New York City has an estimated 57,000 fast-food workers employed in the many restaurants spread across the city. Organizers said the city is one of the two places where a large number of workers participated in the mass labor actions. The other is in Washington, D.C.
About 150 people gathered outside the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space building in Washington, D.C. where a McDonald’s restaurant is located inside the building. Federal contract workers of the said McDonald’s restaurant walked off their jobs and joined the protests outside.
According to fast-food worker and protester Alexis Vasquez at the Smithsonian’s protest group, McDonald’s as a company makes several millions of dollars as profits for its contract with the federal government but “I have to walk to work because I can’t even afford the bus fare.” He is thus very much in favor in the demand for higher wages.
The protesters also added that most of them rely on federal aid in order to support their daily needs because what they earn as fast-food workers are not enough. According to researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of California-Berkeley, between the years 2007 and 2011, the data from the U.S. Census Bureau as well as data from the public benefit programs revealed that 52 percent of restaurant workers (cashiers, cooks and other workers) have at least in one form secured assistance from the government. The government assistance they availed include: food stamps, Medicaid or the earned income tax credit program.
Karina McClain, 22 working as a cashier in a fast-food chain in New York did not report for work and instead joined the labor protests. She said that she is able to join the protests because the organizers are compensating them to join the activity. She said one of the organizer, Fast Food Forward and Fight for 15 paid her $50. This is enough for a day’s wage and if this is not provided she said it is impossible for her to join the rally.
The one-day labor protests are also organized by labor advocate groups like the Service Employees International Union. These advocacy groups are ramping up support for increasing the federal minimum wage or a full time work with pay of about $15,000 per year.
Rev. Charles Williams II of Detroit who is the president of National Action Network thanked the protesters for their support as well as urged the fast-food customers to join them in their protests and sacrifice with them as well.
However, Arun Gupta founding editor of the Occupy Wall Street Journal said that it is good people are participating in these protests and rallies but he is doubtful if real changes can happen. He said the event is more of “a show for the media” rather than making an impact on the bottom line of these restaurants.
According to the National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, said that most of those who joined the protests were union members and said that the demonstrators are “relatively few”. Historically, the fast-food workers, is a group that is very challenging to unionize because of the high turnover rates.
This Thursday’s rally came after a similar labor protests last Black Friday where Walmart workers in about 1,500 stores across the U.S. demanded similar wage increases.
Fast-food workers feel that they are in a similar situation as their counter-parts in the other industry where pay is low. They hope that their demands for higher wages be heard by the government for proper action and implementation.
By Roberto I. Belda