The ability to organize, and if necessary, stage a strike, has long been a powerful tool in the pockets of the working class. In the past, it has been a strategy utilized only by those with the ability to join a union, but it’s fast becoming a weapon of those trapped in the hourly wage economy as well.
In the past few weeks, you may have noticed tiny flashes of news about fast food workers going on strike across America. The lack of national media attention might lead you to believe these are isolated incidents, but it’s just the opposite. As of last Thursday, the direct action was 100 cities strong and growing.
It’s important that we not only acknowledge that these strikes are happening, but take a moment to understand why. Once you’ve learned why workers are willing to violate the fast-food industry’s strict “no organizing ” policy, I hope your only question will be, “How can I help?”
5 Things to Know About the Fast Food Worker Strikes
1. Not a luxury raise, a living wage. Unlike professional athletes and NFL referees who strike to further inflate their already astronomical salaries, fast food workers aren’t just walking off the job because they want more money. These strikes are about paying hard-working employees a living wage that’s in line with inflation. “The strikes are the culmination of a year-long movement that began in New York last November and has spread through a series of three carefully coordinated one-day protests. The aim: an hourly wage of $15 per hour and the right to unionize. Currently, the average fast food worker earns $9 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25,” reports The Nation. In case you’re wondering, no, that’s not enough money to support even a small family.
2. Fast-food workers aren‘t teenagers. For a long time, fast-food jobs have been dismissed as stepping stones for adolescents. Just a way to earn money for movie tickets and make-up when you’re still too young to drive a car. Maybe this myth is why the fast-food industry has been allowed to sneak by offering only minimum wage. Contrary to popular belief, a Center for Economic and Policy Research report finds that people aged 25-54 hold the largest share of fast-food worker jobs in the U.S, many of whom were squeezed into low-wage jobs following the recession. A quarter of fast-food workers are raising a child.
“This means that minimum wage workers are not simply teenagers looking for some pocket money while living at home with their parents; most fast food workers are trying to make a life for themselves and their families on the pittance that they earn,” reports Think Progress. Why should these gainfully employed adults be punished with sub par wages just because their paycheck comes from a fast-food restaurant?
3. The right to organize. I hate to break it to you, but none of this is news to the executives running fast-food restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Burger King. They know that paying only the minimum wage and manipulating hours to avoid giving benefits is worker exploitation. That’s why the biggest fast food corporations are ideologically opposed to unions, and have done their best to bully workers into believing that any type of unionization will cost them their jobs. Experts also say that the franchisee model of fast food chains, in which most of the individual restaurants are run by independent owners, makes unionization next to impossible.
“The point of the one-day strike is really to show the power that workers have when they walk off their jobs and embolden more workers within the store,” Kendall Fells, the organizing director of Fast Food Forward, the group coordinating strikes in New York, told The Nation. “That’s how we’ve been able to create essentially 12 months of momentum.”
4. Reduce poverty. It’s the holidays, right? All over the world people are spouting off about “peace on Earth” and “goodwill toward men.” Yet more families are living below the poverty line than ever before. When they swallow their pride to take advantage of the assistance programs meant to help in times of need, they’re criticized, mocked and told to “get a job.” So they do. But thanks to the outsourcing of the blue collar jobs that used to provide a path out of poverty, unskilled workers are forced to turn to retail and restaurant jobs instead. “With a median wage of $8.85, a fast food cook in a family of three lives in poverty even if she never takes a day off. Raising wages in the fast food industry could improve living standards for millions of hard working people,” reports Demos.org.
5. You, the taxpayer, are picking up the slack. Speaking of federal assistance programs, did you know that instead instating a living wage (or–gasp!–charging $.50 more for a burger) fast food giants like McDonald’s would rather spend money building an employee assistance website full of helpful tips about how to apply for food stamps? That’s right–they know that if they can just get away with paying their workers peanuts, they can count on the government (a.k.a. you and me) to fork over $3.8 billion in aid every year to keep these families from starving. Meanwhile, these very same companies are raking in millions of dollars of profit every day (the CEO of McDonald’s Corporation makes $13.8 million per year), and laughing all the way to the bank.
How to Show Solidarity with Fast Food Workers
1. Sign and share our petition urging fast food restaurants to pay their employees a living wage.
2. Share this video on Facebook and Twitter.
3. Stop eating fast food. (You really shouldn‘t eat that crap anyway.)
Image via The All-Nite Images
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