At a convention of more than 1,300 fast food workers in Illinois this weekend, attendees voted to start including acts of civil disobedience, such as sit-down strikes and restaurant occupations, in their campaign for higher wages and the ability to form a union.
Workers have gone on one-day strikes multiple times since late 2012 in hundreds of cities across the country, demanding at least $15 an hour and the ability to organize. The largest and most recent hit 150 cities in May. Workers have also taken protests to companies themselves, staging a protest outside McDonald’s corporate headquarters in May where more than 100 were arrested.
One of the organizers of the convention told the Associated Press that workers will be asked to do “whatever it takes.” One worker, Cherri Delisline, a single mother who has worked at McDonald’s for 10 years and makes $7.35 an hour, also told the AP that “we need to get more workers involved and shut these businesses down until they listen to us,” including occupying the restaurants.
The actions come at a time when job growth has been stronger in low-wage jobs like fast food but the pay is barely enough to live on. The average fast food employee who works full time, year round makes less than $19,000 before taxes. While executives in the industry claim that these jobs serve as entryways for teenagers to get into the job market, the largest share are held by people between the ages of 25 and 54, and more than a quarter have a child to support. The chances of moving up the ladder and making a career in fast food are much slimmer than in other industries.
Executives, on the other hand, are doing well. Fast food CEOs earn about 1,200 times what they pay their workers. The ratio wasn’t always so high, but the industry’s executive pay increased by more than 300 percent since 2000 while pay for workers has only gone up by 0.3 percent.
Beyond staging protests and strikes, fast food workers have taken legal action. Nine out of ten fast food workers report experiencing wage theft, being made to work off the clock or purchase uniforms with their wages, and workers filed seven class-action lawsuits against McDonalds in March alleging these kinds of actions.