Daily Updates

August 30, 2013

Fast-food workers stage largest protests yet

NEW YORK — Fast-food workers and their supporters beat drums, blew whistles and chanted slogans Thursday on picket lines in dozens of U.S. cities, marking the largest protests yet in their quest for higher wages.

The nationwide day of demonstrations came after similar actions organized by unions and community groups over the past several months. Workers are calling for the right to unionize without interference from employers and for pay of $15 an hour. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year for full-time employees.

Thursday’s walkouts and protests reached about 60 cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, organizers said. But the turnout varied significantly. Some targeted restaurants were temporarily unable to do business because they had too few employees, and others seemingly operated normally.

Ryan Carter, a 29-year-old who bought a $1 cup of coffee at a New York McDonald’s where protesters gathered, said he “absolutely” supported the demand for higher wages.

“They work harder than the billionaires in this city,” he said. But Carter said he didn’t plan to stop his regular trips to McDonald’s.

Jobs in low-wage industries have led the economic recovery. Advocates for a higher minimum wage say that makes it crucial that they pay enough for workers who support families.

The restaurant industry says it already operates on thin margins and insists that sharply higher wages would lead to steeper prices for customers and fewer opportunities for job seekers.

The drive for better pay comes as the White House, some members of Congress and economists seek to raise the federal minimum wage. But most proposals are for a more modest increase, with President Barack Obama suggesting $9 an hour.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers in health care, janitorial and other industries, has been providing financial support and training for local organizers in the fast-food strikes around the country.

The National Retail Federation called the actions “yet more theater orchestrated by organized labor, for organized labor.” The group said it showed the labor movement is facing depleted membership rolls.

Walkouts were also planned Thursday in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Seattle, St. Louis, Hartford, Conn., Memphis, Tenn., and other cities. Organizers said they expected thousands of workers and their allies to turn out, but the number of actual participants was unclear.

In New York, City Council speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn joined about 300 to 400 workers and supporters in a march before the group flooded into a McDonald’s near the Empire State Building. Shortly after the demonstration, however, the restaurant seemed to be operating normally, and a few customers said they hadn’t heard of the movement. The same was true at a McDonald’s a few blocks away.

In Atlanta, a TV station showed customers and workers in a McDonald’s going about their business as protesters read a statement inside the restaurant.

The lack of public awareness illustrates the challenge workers face in building wider support. Workers participating in the strikes represent a tiny fraction of the industry. And fast-food jobs are known for their high turnover rates and relatively young workers.

In another neighborhood of New York City, workers chanted “We can’t survive on $7.25 an hour” outside a Wendy’s and effectively cut off business. There were no customers inside.

In Detroit, the dining area of a McDonald’s was shut down as workers and others protested outside. A Subway in Seattle was able to stay open despite dozens of protesters outside chanting for $15 an hour.

“I know I’m risking my job, but it’s my right to fight for what I deserve,” said Julio Wilson, one of about 30 fast-food workers who picketed outside a Little Caesars in Raleigh, N.C. Wilson, who has a 5-year-old daughter, said he earned $9 an hour at the pizza restaurant.

In Las Vegas, a few dozen people gathered along the street outside a McDonald’s, chanting and carrying signs that read “Strike for a living wage” and “Huelga por $15,” Spanish for “Strike for $15.” But an employee at the restaurant said it stayed open throughout the demonstration.

Not everyone was supportive. Striking workers in Topeka, Kan., were briefly confronted by Richard Moore, who said he understood the strike but not why workers were seeking “$15 for flipping burgers.”

Moore, 57, had been sitting on a curb holding a sign saying he was a veteran looking for a job.

The latest protests follow a series of strikes that began last November in New York City. The biggest effort so far was over the summer when, organizers say, about 2,200 people staged one-day demonstrations in seven cities.

McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say they don’t make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate most of their U.S. restaurants. At restaurants that it owns, McDonald’s said any move to raise entry-level pay would raise overall costs and lead to higher menu prices.

The company said it provides professional development for interested employees and that the protests don’t give an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald’s.

“We respect our employees’ rights to voice their opinions. Employees who participate in these activities and return to work are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts as usual,” McDonald’s said in an emailed statement.

Wendy’s said in a statement that it was “proud to provide a place where thousands of people, who come to us asking for a job, can enter the workforce at a starting wage, gain skills and advance with us or move on to something else.”

Subway and Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, did not respond to requests for comment.

Even though they’re not in unions, fast-food workers who take part in strikes are generally protected from retaliation by employers. Federal labor law gives all workers the right to engage in “protected concerted activities” to complain about wages, working conditions or other terms of employment.

“It’s always been understood that people who fall under this concerted activity umbrella are protected as long as they are protesting not only on their own behalf but on behalf of others as well,” said Robert Kaiser, a St. Louis labor law attorney.

1
Text Only
Daily Updates
  • 10 Things to Know for Monday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:

    April 20, 2014

  • In Other News, April 20

    April 20, 2014

  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout in east

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates

    The boys were both 15, with the crackly voices and awkward peach fuzz of adolescence. They lived just a few minutes away from one another in the West Bank. And both were accused of throwing stones at vehicles, one day after the other.

    April 20, 2014

  • Study: Fuels from corn waste not better than gas

    Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

    April 20, 2014

  • Fracking foes cringe as unions back drilling boom

    After early complaints that out-of-state firms got the most jobs, some local construction trade workers and union members in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia say they’re now benefiting in a big way from the Marcellus and Utica Shale oil and gas boom.

    April 20, 2014

  • In Colorado, a pot holiday tries to go mainstream

    Once the province of activists and stoners, the traditional pot holiday of April 20 has gone mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 20, 2014

  • ‘Capt. America’ tops box office for third week

    Captain America continues to vanquish box office foes, triumphing in ticket sales for the third consecutive week and dominating over megastar Johnny Depp’s new movie.

    April 20, 2014

  • Probe could complicate Rick Perry’s prospects

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent a record 14 years in office vanquishing nearly all who dared confront him: political rivals, moms against mandatory vaccines for sixth graders, a coyote in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    April 20, 2014

  • NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 19, 2014