Low-Wage Workers Strike In Seattle

Terrance Heath

Something’s happening out there, in fast food restaurants, retail shops, and other places where people work for minimum wage or minimal wages, and don’t earn enough to live on. It started in New York, and from there spread to Chicago, St. Louis, DetroitMilwaukee, and Washington, D.C. Now, low-wage workers in Seattle are walking off the job and standing up for livable wages. You can stand with them by signing their petition.

Beginning at 10:30 PM Pacific Time Wednesday, workers at dozens of Seattle fast food locations plan to strike, launching the nation’s seventh work stoppage by fast food employees in eight weeks. Organizers expect workers from chains including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Arby’s, Chipotle, Qdoba and Jack in the Box to participate in the walkout, which will last roughly twenty-four hours.

“I’m sick of seeing my co-workers and me essentially get pushed and pushed and barely be able to eat,” Taco Bell employee Caroline Durocher told The Nation Wednesday. “And I think it’s time that we pushed them back.” Durocher said she’s hopeful that both co-workers on her late night shift will walk off the job with her.

Like recent fast food strikers in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit, the Seattle strikers are holding a one-day walkout to demand a raise to $15 per hour and the right to form a union without intimidation. Like those cities’ strikes, Seattle’s is supported by a coalition of labor and community groups; in each case, the Service Employees International Union has been involved in supporting the organizing efforts. The Seattle campaign, Good Jobs Seattle, is backed by groups including Working Washington, the Washington Community Action Network and OneAmerica.

Workers like Andrew Thomas and Cody Codden are speaking out.

The workers say their wages are stagnant and want a living wage of $15, more opportunities to advance, and the right to organize without retaliation.

“Personally I’m on food stamps, my hours have been cut back,” Burger King worker Andrew Thomas said. “Being here for a year and half. I haven’t gotten a raise.”

Cody Codden has an associate’s degree and is preparing to go back to school, but can only find employment at this Burger King.

“You get work where you can find it and you should also keep looking,” he said. “I’m looking for a 40 week hour job, I’m trying to go to school, I’m trying to find something better.”

More walk-outs are planned throughout the day at Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway, Arby’s, and other national fast food chains across the city, said organizers who are calling the demand for workers’ rights, “Strike Poverty and Raise Seattle.”

By now, it’s a familiar story. Along with low wages, workers have to contend with dangerous working conditions, humiliationabusive treatment, and wage theft.

Several fast food restaurants in Seattle have been forced to close, because the Good Jobs Seattle Strike left them understaffed. Maybe a day with a little less profit will make some companies value their employees enough to pay them livable wages. Right now, Seattle’s minimum wage is $8.55 per hour, which is just a dollar or so less than the $9.64 per hour (about $20,054 per year) the MIT Living Wage Calculator says a single adult in Seattle needs to earn in order to afford necessities like food, shelter, transportation, and medical care. Add one child, and living in Seattle gets considerably more expensive, requiring $20.53 per hour (or $42,711 per year), just to afford essentials.

Like workers in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., low wage workers in Seattle are asking for $15 an hour. The average CEO made $9.7 million last year. The rest of us didn’t do so well, and half of us are in near poverty. It’s time to stand together and stand with workers in Seattle and beyond.

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