Fast Food Workers Strike for Higher Wages

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A protestor urges fast food companies to raise employee wages. [Photograph: Fast Food Forward]

In what is being called the "largest strike by fast-food workers in the history of the United States," employees walked out of their shifts this week and staged protests outside of McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, and a half dozen other food retailers. These strikes, which took place across the country in cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and New York are short protests aimed to draw attention to the low wages paid to many fast food and restaurant workers. They were organized by Fast Food Forward and Fight for 15, who advocate fair wages and working conditions for food service workers.

The campaign aims to raise wages from $7.50 an hour—the benchmark wage being protested by strikers—to $15 an hour. According to employees, this wage gap is the difference between living in poverty and making a livable income. Workers have historically had little leverage to fight for higher wages, given that none of the nation's 200,000 fast food restaurants have unionized workforces. Unionization is difficult due to high turnover rates in these low-wage jobs, as well as considerable pressure from higher-ups. But many workers explain that they have limited options outside the food service industry, and those with children and families to support feel especially pinched by the poverty-level income they make in fast food jobs.

The National Restaurant Association has pushed back on claims that workers are underpaid, saying that a small number of workers are paid minimum wage, and those who are tend to be young and single. Additionally, the organization said their ability to create jobs would be severely limited by a significant hourly wage increase. Strikers have pointed to the high profit margins of their employers as indication that restaurants could raise wages without any detriment to company expansion and operation.

It's not clear exactly how strikers will move forward with their campaign after this week's protests have passed—negotiations could lead to unionization, to a compromise wage in the $9-11 per hour range, or to the dissolution of the fragmented movement. For now, you can follow the strikers' progress or sign their petition on the Low Pay is Not OK website.

About the Author:Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website.