New strikes in the fast food and retail industries are hitting Kansas City and Flint, MI on Monday, joining their counterparts in a half-dozen other cities in walking off the job over unlivable wages. The industry that has seen the majority of U.S. job growth since the recession is under increasing pressure to raise pay and allow its workers to organize.
Workers in New York City, where the ongoing wave of fast food worker activism originated last fall, are walking out of Wendy’s and McDonald’s restaurants early Monday and holding a rally in Manhattan’s Union Square at 3:00. Kansas City and St. Louis will see both fast food and retail walkouts on Monday as well, and over the coming days they will be joined by workers in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Flint. Activists in Seattle, which saw its own fast food strikes in late May, also expect to participate in the week of action. Counting Washington, D.C., where low-wage employees of federal food and retail contractors have held three separate strikes this spring and summer, the coast-to-coast organizing push now includes nine cities.
Workers’ call for a $15 hourly wage goes further than what some members of congress have proposed recently and far beyond President Obama’s endorsement of raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour. Supporters point to businesses like Costco, which pays an hourly rate over $20 and provides benefits for most of its employees, as an example of how big U.S. businesses could invest in workers without damaging their competitiveness. The company recently reported $459 million in profits from a single quarter, up 19 percent.
The millions of private-sector jobs that have been added since the recession have mostly been low-paying service work that is insufficient to provide even a basic level of economic security. Wages in the fast food industry are far below the level required to support a family. McDonald’s runs a website intended to help employees budget, and the site’s recommendations include getting a second job to get by. While both fast food and retail employers who pay poverty wages defend their pay scales by saying they give junior employees access to economic mobility through advancement opportunities, the reality is those jobs are almost always a dead end.
Last week marked four years since the last increase to the federal minimum wage, and research suggests increasing the minimum wage would produce billions of dollars’ worth of net gains in economic activity.