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Fast Food Strikes Return Amid Push for Higher Wages

| December 5, 2013
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By Monica Lam, Olivia Hubert-Allen, Crispin Lopez and The Associated Press

Fast-food workers and labor organizers are marching, waving signs and chanting in cities across the country Thursday amid a push for higher wages.

Organizers say walkouts are planned in 100 cities, with rallies set for another 100 cities.

Guadalupe Salazar, 37, says she plans to walk off her job at the McDonald’s in Oakland’s Eastmont Town Center. She earns $8 an hour, and has not had a raise since she began her job about 18 months ago.

She raises her 6-year-old daughter, Diana, on about $1,000 a month. After paying $500 in rent, $60 for her phone bill and $100 in bus fares there is just enough left for simple meals, like Cup ‘o’ Noodles, she says.

East Bay protesters are demanding $15 per hour and the right to form a union.

Salazar is uncertain if many of her McDonald’s colleagues will join the strike. She thinks some of them fear they will be fired, even though it is illegal to fire a worker for striking.

Nationally, the actions will mark the largest showing yet in a push that began a year ago. At a time when there’s growing national and international attention on economic disparities, labor unions, worker advocacy groups, Democrats are hoping to build public support to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25, or about $15,000 a year for full-time work.

In New York City, about 100 protesters blew whistles and beat drums while marching into a McDonald’s at around 6:30 a.m.; one startled customer grabbed his food and fled as they flooded the restaurant, while another didn’t look up from eating and reading amid their chants of “We can’t survive on $7.25!”

Guadalupe Salazar works at a McDonald's in Oakland, where she earns $8 an hour. She is planning to strike on Thursday as part of a nationwide organized protest to demand $15 an hour and the right to unionize. (Monica Lam/KQED)

Guadalupe Salazar works at a McDonald’s in Oakland, where she earns $8 an hour. She is planning to strike on Thursday as part of a nationwide organized protest to demand $15 an hour and the right to unionize. (Monica Lam/KQED)

Community leaders took turns giving speeches for about 15 minutes until the police arrived and ordered protesters out of the store. The crowd continued to demonstrate outside for about 45 minutes. A McDonald’s manager declined to be interviewed and asked that the handful of customers in the store not be bothered.

In Detroit, about 50 demonstrators turned out for a pre-dawn rally in front of a McDonald’s. A handful of employees walked off the job, but the restaurant stayed open as a manager and other employees worked the front counter and drive-thru window.

Julius Waters, a 29-year-old McDonald’s maintenance worker who was among the protesters, said it’s hard making ends meet on his wage of $7.40 an hour.

“I need a better wage for myself, because, right now, I’m relying on aid, and $7.40 is not able to help me maintain taking care of my son. I’m a single parent,” Waters said.

The push for higher pay in the fast-food industry faces an uphill battle. The industry competes aggressively on value offerings and companies have warned that they would need to raise prices if wages were hiked. Most fast-food locations are also owned and operated by franchisees, which lets companies such as McDonald’s Corp., Burger King Worldwide Inc. and Yum Brands Inc. say that they don’t control worker pay.

However, labor advocates have pointed out that companies control many other aspects of restaurant operations through their franchise agreements, including menus, suppliers and equipment.

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Fast-food workers have historically been seen as difficult to unionize, given the industry’s high turnover rates. But the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers in health care, janitorial and other industries, has been providing considerable organizational and financial support to the push for higher pay over the past year.

The National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, said most of those protesting were union workers and that “relatively few” workers have participated in past actions. It called the demonstrations a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”

McDonald’s said in a statement that it’s “committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed.” The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said it offers employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits.

For more on the Fast Food protests in the Bay Area, watch KQED Newsroom at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6. on KQED Public Television 9, listen on Sundays at 6 p.m. on KQED Public Radio 88.5 FM or watch on demand here.

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  • Curious

    McDonalds should fire anyone who goes on strike. Plenty of people who would take the job. You are lucky to have a job in the Obama economy.

  • Karen Westmont

    I’m working at a department store in the Bay Area for half the wage I worked this same Holiday job in college in the 70s. Half. Adjusted by the CPI, my $5 wage then should be $20 now. Despite my graduate and Ivy League education, I am working at half my old wage and thereby representing the low-wage phenomena in two ways.
    Perhaps a minimum wage should be set either independent;y of politicians or else dependent on politicians’ own rate of wage increases or those of the executives of each company. As corollary, the US should lobby for local living wage and environmental and safety regulations to be included in all ‘free’ trade agreements