U.S. fast-food workers protest, demand a ‘living wage’
NEW YORK |
(Reuters) – Fast-food workers went on strike and protested outside McDonald’s, Burger King and other restaurants in 60 U.S. cities on Thursday, in the largest protest of an almost year-long campaign to raise service sector wages.
Rallies were held in cities from New York to Oakland and stretched into the South, historically difficult territory for organized labor.
The striking workers say they want to unionize without retaliation in order to collectively bargain for a “living wage.”
They are demanding $15 an hour, more than twice the federal minimum of $7.25. The median wage for front-line fast-food workers is $8.94 per hour, according to an analysis of government data by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), an advocacy group for lower-wage workers.
“It’s almost impossible to get by (alone),” said McDonald’s worker Rita Jennings, 37, who was among about 100 protesters who marched in downtown Detroit Thursday. “You have to live with somebody to make it.”
Jennings said that in her 11 years at McDonald’s, she has never received a raise above her wage of $7.40 an hour.
In Atlanta, about 20 fast-food workers at two different chains presented their managers with “strike letters” before walking out, Roger Sikes, a coordinator with the nonprofit group Atlanta Jobs With Justice, told Reuters.
And in Oakland, about 80 fast-food workers from various restaurants and their supporters rallied outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.
“I’m doing it for the respect for myself and for my other coworkers,” said Ryan Schuetz, 20, who works at McDonald’s. He said his work hours have been reduced recently and that he was struggling to keep a roof over his head.
Several politicians came out in support of the protesters on Thursday.
In New York City, mayoral candidate and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined several hundred demonstrators outside a McDonald’s in midtown Manhattan, holding a sign that read “On Strike: Wages Too Damn Low.”
“Better pay will put more money into local businesses and spur economic growth,” Democratic Representative George Miller of California said in a statement.
Robert Hiltonsmith, a policy analyst at Demos, a liberal think tank, said that if the minimum wage had kept up with productivity and inflation, it would be closer to $17 per hour.