Fast Food Strikes Are Back, Bigger Than Ever

Terrance Heath

The fast-food strikes are back, and bigger than ever. Today, workers in 150 cities will take to the streets to demand livable wages for themselves and their families, the right to organize, and a better economy for all of us.

Last year, low-wage workers in over 60 cities went on strike for livable wages. What’s different about this year’s fast-food strikes is that they’re more than twice as big, and spreading beyond fast-food and retail workers. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is calling on home health care workers to join the movement for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a week after 27,000 home health aides in Minnesota said yes to joining the union, which represents about 600,000 home health workers in 20 states.

Just a week after the 51st anniversary of the March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom, workers are raising awareness and increasing pressure on employers by using sit-ins and civil disobedience to call attention to what they’re facing. Among them will be workers like Irving Ortega, who works at a McDonald’s in Oakland, Calif., and will be participating in his third strike. Ortega’s manager, upon hearing the news, simply said, “It’s your right to go on strike. But if you can tell me when you will, I can cover your hours.” Ortega replied, “That defeats the purpose. The purpose is so you realize you need me and I’m a valuable worker.”

Valuing work, as I learned when I worked for McDonald’s, starts with valuing workers for whom “going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, [and] not always fair,” with livable wages that allow them to afford essentials like food, shelter, transportation and medical care. Most of them are adults — 80 percent, according to one study — and most of them are parents, supporting their families on unlivable wages.

Ted Cruz’s dad, Rafael Cruz, says that black people (and every one else) “need to be educated” about the perils of increasing the minimum wage, but doing so makes a huge positive difference for workers and their families. In Seattle, where the city council passed the first $15 minimum wage in the country, it means a chance to do things that most of us take for granted.

  • Imeleta Noa, a 51-year-old home care provider says, “With a raise in pay, I’ll be able to pay the bills, especially the rent, and maybe we can have a little vacation.”
  • Brittany and Martina Phelps, ages 22 and 23, who both have college degrees and work full-time at McDonald’s, hope to move out of their mother’s crowded apartment, and possibly return to school.
  • With his upcoming raise, 19-year-old McDonald’s employee Sam LeLoo now sees college as a real possibility, “the first stepping stone to where I’m going.”
  • Twenty-four-year-old sales associate Colton McMurray just hopes to stop “stressing about money for food” and “deciding whether to spend my last $5 to get to work and back or to spend it on something to eat on my lunch break.”
  • Navy veteran James Harvey, 43, has worked at Burger King for eight years, hopes to get three broken teeth fixed. With his pay raise, Harvey may be able to afford the $50-a-month VA program that will “take care of everything.”

Increasing the minimum wage is good economic sense, too. Richard Fink, the Koch Brother’s political strategist, says that raising the minimum wage leads to fascism. Fast-food CEO Andy Puzder (who runs Carl’s and Hardee’s restaurants) said raising the minimum wage will harm workers and kill job growth, but the 13 states that have raised the minimum wage have higher rates of job growth than states that haven’t increased minimum wage. A joint study by Labor and Employment Relations professor Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois-Urbana and policy director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute Frank Manzo IV shows that states with laws that support workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively have higher incomes, more revenues, less inequality, and less demand for “safety net” programs than “right to work” states.

If you walk into your nearest fast-food restaurant looking for lunch today, you might find them a little short-staffed, because workers are in the streets, demonstrating for livable wages and the right to organize. In other words, they’re really standing up for a better economy for all of us. Instead of low pay and wage theft with a side of french fries, “brown bag” your lunch and take a stand for livable wages and workers rights today.

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