Fast-food strikes continue across US

Workers want a living wage and the right to organize

Fast food workers demonstrate Monday in Kansas City, calling for higher wages and the right to form unions without retaliation by their employer. (Credit: Standup KC)

Fast-food workers continued striking in seven cities across the U.S. Tuesday, demanding better wages and the right to unionize at chain restaurants, organizers said.

Hundreds demonstrated in New York City Monday, chanting slogans and carrying signs calling for wage increases. Other cities involved in the strike include Kansas City, Mo., Chicago, Detroit and Flint, Mich., where workers gathered outside chains like McDonalds, Burger King and KFC.

The strikers seek a raise in their pay from the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 to what is termed a "living wage" of $15 an hour.

In a press release, organizers said strikers "with nothing to lose" will walk off their jobs Tuesday in St. Louis. They will be joined by members of the United Mine Workers of America, according to St. Louis organizers.

The activists slammed the low paying jobs that they say have made up the bulk of new positions available to workers in the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.

“Our country’s fastest growing jobs are also the lowest paid, slowing our recovery and hurting our local economy," strike organizers said in a statement. "While the fast food industry is making record profits, its workers are forced to rely on public assistance just to afford the basics."

The St. Louis Organizing Committee statement lists dozens of church groups, including the Presbyterian Church USA and St. John's Catholic Church, as well as other trade unions, as supporters of their cause.

Additional restaurant chains where workers expect to protest include White Castle, Jimmy John’s, Papa John’s, Arby’s, Hardee’s and Jack in the Box, according to the release.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business advocacy group, accused the demonstrators of serving as a front for the union agenda.

“These union front groups are proliferating and skirting federal laws regulating union behavior that protect workers and employers alike," said Glenn Spencer, vice president of the Chamber's Workforce Freedom Initiative. "These are really just unions masquerading as community organizations.” 

When contacted about the Chamber of Commerce's statement, the New York City-based employee advocacy group Fast Food Forward, one of the main forces behind the New York City strikes, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fast-food workers and other retail employees kicked off the planned week of rallies on Monday, seeking higher wages and the right to unionize.

"I only make close to $200 a week and that's not cutting it. I'm burning myself out. I'm a 30-year-old man and I feel like I'm 60," Kareem Starks, a family man who provides for two kids on his McDonald's wages, told Al Jazeera.

According to Fast Food Forward, the average fast food company executive makes $25,000 a day, or more than twice what some of their employees make in an entire year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average fast-food worker makes about $9 an hour, or around $18,000 a year, Bloomberg reports.

In May, fast food workers also launched strikes in several U.S. cities, including Milwaukee.

Source: Pearson Education / Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics

Red bars represent the real value of the minimum wage adjusted for inflation – its real buying power based on the dollar's value in 1996. Orange bars show the monetary figure for the minimum wage. Even though the federal minimum wage is now $7.25, that amount actually buys less than the 1980 minimum of $3.10 did.

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