U.S. fast food workers kick-off multi-city protests for higher pay

July 29 Mon Jul 29, 2013 7:57pm EDT

July 29 (Reuters) - Hundreds of low-wage workers at fast food chains such as McDonald's and Wendy's on Monday protested in the streets of New York, kick-starting a week of demonstrations in several major cities demanding the right to unionize and pressing to double the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Protesters, many who earn less than the $11 per hour threshold many economists consider the cutoff for poverty-level wages, said they had nothing to lose by speaking out against their employers.

"Remaining silent is not an option because it's nearly impossible to survive on $7.25 an hour," said Kareem Starks, a McDonald's worker in Brooklyn, referring to the federal minimum wage. Organizers said as many as 500 workers turned out for the New York rallies.

But opponents of the campaign, in their highest profile response to the workers yet, put out a full-page ad in USA Today that said catering to those demands would kill jobs.

The protesting workers, who are getting support from unions, and community and religious groups, are also planning demonstrations in Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee and Flint, Michigan, this week.

Millions of working families and individuals in the United States struggle to live on pay that is at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which when adjusted for inflation, is worth 22 percent less than in 1968 ($9.27) and 7 percent less than in 2009 ($7.78), according to figures provided by the progressive Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute.

U.S. President Barack Obama, state and federal lawmakers, and even some corporate executives have proposed raising the federal minimum wage as a way to help lift some workers out of poverty.

The $200 billion U.S. fast-food industry has long opposed a minimum wage increase because labor is one of their largest costs.

MACHINES MAY REPLACE WORKERS

The Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute (EPI) ad responding to the workers' demands said that raising the minimum wage to $15 would hurt restaurant operators and force them to "replace employees with less-costly, automated alternatives like touch-screen ordering and payment devices."

"The dollar menu is going to be the $5 menu and (restaurants) are going to lose sales, or they're going to have to find a way to provide the same product with less service," Michael Saltsman, EPI's research director, told Reuters.

Restaurant owners already are testing automated ordering and payments systems to save money. They also work to boost profits by moving workers to part-time from full-time and by assigning very short shifts to cover busy periods.

The response from EPI - which is funded by businesses, individuals and foundations and led by Rick Berman, a powerful lobbyist for the tobacco, alcohol, food and beverage industries - comes as protests by low-wage workers in the restaurant and retail industry are growing and attracting more media coverage.

McDonald's did not respond to a request for comment.

Devonte Yates, 21, a McDonald's worker in Milwaukee, makes $7.25 per hour and said he can only get anywhere from nine to 20 hours a week even though he'd like to work more.

Yates said he is often on call, which makes it difficult to take a second job. When he does get called to work, there is no guarantee he will get a full, eight-hours.

"The shortest shift I've ever worked is 90 minutes," he said, adding that it takes him that long to get to work on the bus, which costs $4.50 per round trip.

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Comments (2)
dalimar wrote:
Okay, last time…. minimum wadge is not supposed to support a family of four. If that is all you can achieve in life, re-examine your life’s decisions. I will not judge you by your honest mistakes,but i do ask you to pay for them. raising the bottom only makes prices more expensive, crunches the middle class and widens the income gap. with unemployment at the rate it is… if they protest and walk out, its pink slip time. its all about the market. there’s someone else who will take that position. I’ve been there, pulled my self up, payed my dues and only now at mid 30′s am i now starting to be able to breath deep. this is not that hard of a concept to figure out, you self centered, egocentric, ingrates.

Jul 29, 2013 9:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
squeezy1 wrote:
Fast food, and any food service, retail services no longer looks after their employees. There was a time they did, and tried to make it a “family” environment. Now, it is a budget issue – if they are not on budget, they cut hours, and the employees do double the work for the same pay. Some people, I have seen in an well known arts an craft store only get 8 hours a week. The problem with this???? They are still hiring people!!!! And this my friend is the problem over all with all of these chains, they over hire, under pay, and cut hours. And because they keep these employees on a flex-schedule they can’t get another part time job. In the un-certain job market they don’t want to lose what they have, is this on purpose? A lot to think about. Makes you wonder what the CEO’s are really doing at those board meetings, are they thinking about the American people they are effecting, the customers who see these people who are losing hope and can’t feed their families? Or, the making more profit for their stockholders, which would not be available without the employee’s and customers? would it make more sense to invest in your workers and reap the rewards of loyalty, hard work, stability, good customer service, a lot to think about – maybe even larger stocks – Ha

Jul 31, 2013 7:31pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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