Fast Food Workers Strike in Over 30 Countries

Milwaukee fast food workers take to the streets on May 15, 2014

Do the math. A fast food worker who makes $9 an hour (the US Bureau of Labor Statistics average) and works a 40-hour week earns wages adding up to $18,720 a year (over $4,000 below the poverty level as determined by the US Census Bureau). And that worker is not unlikely to be the primary wage earner for a household that includes children – the profile of the average fast food worker has changed over the years from that of a young person in a first job to that of someone older and more educated, often a mother with a family to support.

By contrast, the gargantuan fast food industry declares billions of dollars in profits annually, while CEO salary remains supersized (even at Chipotle, in spite of its reputation for sustainability).

“Unfair,” you might think, as your moral compass steers you toward a sense of righteous indignation. “But it doesn’t impact me directly because I never go to fast food venues.” Think again. Since the financial situation for those workers is untenable, more than half of them rely on government safety net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, according to a recent story in Time. So your tax dollars are subsidizing payroll costs that should be the responsibility of the fast food industry.

More than half of fast food workers rely on government safety net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps. So your tax dollars are subsidizing payroll costs that should be the responsibility of the fast food industry.

A May 7 meeting between union leaders and fast food workers culminated in the announcement of a nationwide one-day strike on May 15 ; support grew to include 150 cities in over 30 countries, distinguishing this as a truly global movement. In addition to demanding a living wage of $15 dollars per hour, the workers are calling for the right to unionize. Organizing has traditionally proved to be problematic in the fast food sector, with most chains structured as franchises, which absolve their parent companies from overall responsibility for wages. The effort has been around in the form of a “Fight for 15” campaign since 2012, but this year’s demonstration has earned unprecedented attention from the media.

Effects are already being felt at some state and local levels where the minimum wage has seen a bump. Nationally, it may be that the most the strike will accomplish is to intensify the focus on economic inequality and bolster the debate over increasing the minimum wage. But the movement continues to grow and each walkout is larger than the previous one. Industry is certainly taking notice (although they’re growing quieter as this movement gains momentum); indeed, McDonald’s advised its shareholders in its newest annual report that “reputational harm” could negatively affect their all-important bottom line.

In the 70s, McDonald’s slogan was, “You deserve a break today.” Appropriate, perhaps, for these times as well.

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