The Largest Strike Ever Just Hit The Fast Food Industry

CREDIT: Christopher Butterfield

Fast food workers staged a one-day strike in 100 cities across the country on Thursday, with workers joining the largest ever action to protest the industry’s low wages in places such as New York City, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C.

Striking workers demanded wage raises to $15 an hour and the right to form a union, calling the current federal minimum of $7.25 unlivable. Nearly 70 percent of fast food workers make between $7.26 and $10.09, and over a quarter of industry workers rely on these wages to support at least one child. Thursday’s strike is the largest in a growing string of protests, including a strike that reached 50 cities in August.

In Washington, McDonald’s workers went on strike at the company’s location at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. Their struggles facing low wage workers can be overwhelming. One striking McDonald’s worker told ThinkProgress, “I’m hurting. I’m crying in my heart, my kids are starving. $8.25 is not enough to live in D.C., or anywhere for that matter, when the cost of living is constantly going up.” The $8.25 she makes at McDonald’s is not enough for her to support her two children. “I live in Capitol Hill and my rent is $1050. I work my butt off at work for a $300 check that I can’t even use to pay my rent. So, it’s saddening. It’s depressing, I’m seeing a therapist. It’s just a lot.”

Flanked by supportive congressmen and women, the workers demanded President Obama issue an executive order forcing fast food companies that contract with the federal government to pay livable wages. Workers shared the difficulties they face in supporting families on annual earnings as low as $11,000. As workers chanted “We can’t survive on $8.25,” Congresswoman Jan Shakowski (D-IL) encouraged the president to issue the order. “We had a conversation last election about the makers and the takers, about the 1 percent and the 99 percent, and Barack Obama won that election,” she said. “They can be the makers if they have money in their pockets!”

Other actions took place across the country. Hundreds of striking workers gathered in Chicago as Wendy’s employees were joined by peers from McDonalds, Walgreens, Macy’s, Sears, and even a Christmas Grinch. Workers in New York beat drums and blew whistles, and in Detroit some restaurants were unable to do business due to a lack of employees.

The fast food industry’s low wages aren’t just hurting vulnerable workers. They are hurting American taxpayers. An October study revealed thatlow wage earners receive $243 billion in food stamps, Medicaid, and other public benefits every year. While McDonald’s advises its workers to turn off their heat and find additional jobs, taxpayers help subsidize their employees.

Christopher Butterfield is an intern for ThinkProgress