Today, fast food workers in cities across the United States will participate in a nationwide strike, staging one-day walkouts from their jobs at restaurants like Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut. This strike follows in the wake of local strikes that have been organized in eight U.S. cities since November of last year. According to movement organizers, more than 35 cities are expected to participate, including New York City, Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, Memphis, and Oakland.
Workers are striking to demand an increase in the current median wage of US$8.94 per hour – which puts most non-managerial workers below the poverty line – to a minimum of US$15 per hour, as well as the right to unionize without retaliation. Currently, none of the workers in fast food restaurants in the U.S. are unionized, which is what makes this labor movement different from past protests. In a recent interview with NPR, New York Times labor and workplace correspondent Steven Greenhouse explained:
“It really is an innovative, unusual campaign, it’s not at all like your typical unionization drive where you go to one workplace and you try to get 52 percent of the workers to vote for a union. And that’s very hard to do nowadays. They’re really trying to create this kind of industry-wide push, movement, to demand that the fast food industry do more.”
The movement is being backed by national unions and organizations as well as local community groups who are promoting, funding, and coordinating the workers’ efforts for better wages and organizing rights. According to Mary Kay Henry, the President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), “Our primary goal is to help workers boost wages. We think a key part of that is helping workers form organizations where they can directly bargain for wages with their employers.”
Organizations that previously supported individual city strikes are continuing their support by promoting the national strike. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, UNITE HERE, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee AFL-CIO, The United Farm Workers of America, and local chapters of United Food and Commercial Workers are promoting the nationwide strike through their websites and meetings. The Low Pay Is Not OK campaign offers a Strike Kit to help organizers in individual cities stage a successful walkout through a step-by-step program.
This nationwide effort is being staged in large response to the broad support shown for the movement on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The most significant effect of the strikes so far has been to raise media attention. In raising awareness and interest in the issue of workers’ wages, organizers and participants intend to push Congress to raise the federal minimum wage of US$7.25, the real value of which has fallen 30 percent over the last 40 years, according to research done by the National Employment Law Project (NELP). The same research shows that the federal minimum wage would need to be US$10.74 if it had kept up with inflation over the past half century. This past February, President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to US$9.00, a move which gives many strike participants hope.
Response from the fast food industry has not been quite as hopeful. Executives consider the workers’ demand for more than double the current minimum wage to be unrealistic, and point to other opportunities provided by fast food companies as compensation for workers’ low pay. But workers are still dissatisfied with the large disparity between non-managerial and executive incomes. According to the Low Pay Is Not OK campaign, full-time fast food workers earn US$15,080 on average per year, while fast food executives earn $25,000 per day – a gap that strike participants are working toward closing.