On April 4, non-unionized fast food workers in New York – reportedly 400 employees from about 70 businesses in total – stormed out of their workplaces and into the streets. A similar strike occurred on April 24 in Chicago. Both demonstrations were organized with the help of Fast Food Forward, a campaign led by the community-organizing group New York Communities for Change. Fast Food Forward debuted their campaign on Nov. 29, echoing the sentiments of Chicago’s heavily publicized Black Friday protests: calling for a minimum hourly wage of US$15 (as opposed to where it currently stands, at US$7.25) and unionization without intimidation.
Signed by approximately 123,500 supporters and counting, the Fast Food Forward petition addresses “the CEOs of Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and Burger King” and states that the US$11,000 average yearly salary of fast food workers in New York is not a living wage in the most expensive city in the United States. While the employees are barely getting by on US$11,000 per year, Fast Food Forward reports that fast food companies’ CEOs are bringing home an average of US$25,000 per day.
Where fast food workers are barely surviving, fast food corporations are most certainly thriving. McDonald’s shares are up 80 percent since April 2008, with US$2.3 billion in cash on the books. Shareholders in Burger King, YUM! Brands – the umbrella company that owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut – have likewise profited. Meanwhile, one fast food worker participating in the April 4 strike admitted to living with six extended family members crammed into a one-bedroom apartment just to make ends meet.
The fast food workforce’s low wages have larger economic implications as well. With so little income, the 2.7 million fast food workers in the U.S. can’t afford to stimulate the economy. In a recent study by Dēmos, a national, non-partisan public policy center, Catherine Ruetschlin, Dēmos policy analyst, explains that “raising wages would benefit workers, the industry and the overall economy.”
On the unionization front, Fast Food Forward faces additional challenges. As of yet, corporations who illegally replace striking workers face minimal penalty charges, and even when workers win a unionization election, companies can filibuster negotiations for years. But with the involvement of campaigns like Fast Food Forward that connect food workers to their communities for collective action, there is hope for workers.