By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian
NEW YORK Aug 29 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
The striking workers say they want to unionize without
retaliation in order to collectively bargain for a "living
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
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.
He added that in many cases, low pay wasn't justified by a
worker's lack of marketable skills.
"Seventy percent of these fast-food workers are aged 20 or
over, so they're not teenagers, and of that 70 percent, about a
third of them have college degrees," he said.
"So it's not that they don't have skills - in many cases,
the jobs aren't there for them."
Thursday's demonstrations in 60 cities followed several
smaller strikes this year in the $200 billion U.S. fast-food
sector, organizers said.
Last November, some 200 workers walked off their fast-food
jobs in New York City, and groups in Chicago, Kansas City,
Detroit and other cities followed their lead in April and July.
Fast-food wage activists are now receiving financial and
technical support from the Service Employees International Union
Their active online presence echoes Occupy Wall Street - a
movement that several supporters of the protests cited as an
Restaurant chains and trade groups say the protests are
unwarranted because fast-food and retail outlets provide
Americans with millions of good jobs with competitive pay and
ample opportunities to rise through the ranks.
"Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked
their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful
careers both within and outside of McDonald's," the company said
in a statement.
In an emailed statement, Burger King said the company
respects the rights of its workers but "does not make hiring,
firing or other employment-related decisions for our
The restaurant chains have not changed their wage policies
despite the recent strikes.
The National Retail Federation called the strikes "further
proof that the labor movement (has) abdicated their role in an
honest and rational discussion about the American workforce."
And in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the conservative
Employment Policies Institute ran a full-page ad with a picture
of a robot making pancakes, warning that higher wages would mean
"fewer entry-level jobs and more automated alternatives."
"You can either raise prices and lose customers, or
(automate) those jobs," said Michael Saltsman, EPI's research
director. "The idea that restaurants are rolling in the money is
not representative of the situation franchisees face."
Dorian Warren, an assistant professor of political science
at Columbia University who has published work on labor
organizing and inequality, said new protests in the South are "a
huge, huge deal."
"The South has always been the model for low wage
employment, from slavery to the Jim Crow laws, to the present.
It's also the most anti-union part of the country, so the fact
that workers feel empowered enough to take collective action is
enormous," he noted.