Nine months after fast food workers in New York City walked off the job on “Black Friday,” their efforts to change the industry’s pay standards have gone national. Workers are striking in roughly 50 cities on Thursday in hopes of converting the trickle of strikes throughout the summer in cities like Seattle, St. Louis, and Milwaukee into a flood.
In addition to the nine cities that have already seen strikes this summer, places like Boston, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, and Hartford are joining the fight on Thursday. Organizers welcomed reports that one restaurant manager in Hartford plans to fire anyone who participates in the strike, saying that such illegal retaliation will only bring immediate high-profile pressure from workers and their supporters, further raising the profile of the effort to end poverty wages in food service.
Kyle King, a Burger King cashier in Boston, told the Boston Globe that he and the thousands of other workers expected to strike Thursday have to risk being fired if they want to change anything. “I don’t know what I’ll lose first,” King said, “lose my job or lose my sanity.” Thursday also brings the fast food strikes to major cities in the south for the first time. Unions are less powerful in the south, and legal protections for workers tend to be weaker in southern states.
Low-wage workers in the retail and fast food industries have been walking off the job since last year to demand a minimum wage of $15 and the right to organize into unions. The fast food industry’s profits have soared, but those gains haven’t trickled down to workers. Fast food jobs, like the other low-wage service sector jobs that have been the primary source of post-recession job growth, do not currently allow workers to support themselves financially. McDonald’s recommends that its employees find a second job and go without heat or air conditioning in order to survive on the chain’s typical wages.
As the strikes have spread, the drumbeat to raise the minimum wage has grown louder. One congressional proposal would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour, which would barely catch up to the buying power the minimum wage had in 1968.
Fast food operations in other countries and a handful of chains in the U.S. that are committed to paying livable wages have shown that companies can still make healthy profits while paying substantially higher wages.
According to a press release from organizers, Thursday’s strike has exceeded expectations with workers in 58 cities are participating. From the release: “Workers went on the pre-Labor Day strike in Alameda, CA; Atlanta; Aurora, CO; Austin, TX; Ballwin, MO; Belleville, Ill; Berkeley, CA; Bloomington, Ill; Boston; Charlotte; Chicago; Columbia, MO; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Durham; East St. Louis, Ill; Flint; Fremont, CA; Greensboro; Gretna, LA; Hartford; Hayward, CA; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City, MO; Lansing; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Madison, WI; Manchester, CT; Memphis; Milwaukee; Missoula, MT; Newark, CA; New Orleans; New York; Northglenn, CO; North Las Vegas; Oakland; Richmond, CA; Peoria; Phoenix; Pontiac, MI; Raleigh; Richmond, CA; San Diego; San Leandro, CA; San Lorenzo, CA.; Seattle; Springfield, Ill; St. Louis; Tacoma, WA; Tampa; Topeka, KS; Wausau, WI; West Haven, CT; and Wilmington, DE.”