WASHINGTON, D.C. – All around the country, thousands of workers at fast food restaurants walked out of their places of employment Friday in a protest called “Fight for 15.”
Workers, who seem to have organized joint protests around the country, are striking from their minimum wage jobs to protest the low rate of pay. They are asking that wages be raised to $15 per hour from the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 because many of them can’t make ends meet on the current rate of pay.
This strike has been met with public outcry, both for and against the proposed wage increase. Workers say they just want to be paid what they are worth, with the workload and invested time. Opponents are frequently saying that if these workers want better pay, they need to find better jobs because fast food work is “not meant to be a permanent position unless you’re a manager,” according to one online commenter.
However, fast food work is not merely for those in transition or those who lack education anymore. Meghan ford, a 22 year-old who works at Dunkin’ Donuts, has a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in sociology and more than $20,000 in student loans to pay off. Because she is unable to find work with her degree, she is forced to work fast food for $8.25 an hour. She reported that 90 percent of her check goes toward rent in the home she shares with her roommates and she is left with enough to eat one meal a day. She is able to save nothing for her dream of moving to Chicago. Reports of similar stories can be found all over the internet.
Fast food workers in more than 50 cities, including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, either didn’t show up for their shifts or simply walked out in protest, according to local organizers and the Service Employees International Union, which has been advising strikers around the country.
Chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho! Poverty wages gotta go!” have been heard at many of the restaurants at which employees were striking, like the McDonalds location in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. In addition to more than doubling their hourly wage, workers are demanding the right to organize into a union. Other restaurants that have been frequently protested include Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, Subway, and Burger King, among many others.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fast food workers across the country currently make an average of $9 per hour, which strikers insist is not enough to live on in the current economy. Several employees walked off the job at a McDonalds at 16th and Meridian, though the restaurant remained open, staffed by workers that chose not to participate in the strike for fear of losing their jobs, as walking out is grounds for dismissal.
Local restaurants do not appear to have had any strikers, perhaps because employees realize that with the shortage of paying jobs, $7.25 an hour is more than nothing, which is what many protestors will receive if they are fired. Many factories and skilled labor providers don’t even pay $15 per hour. Across the internet, social media and the news, strikers are being built up and torn down in equal measure for their protests.
Many supporters claim that fast food workers that are trying to support families are forced to obtain government assistance when their paltry paychecks aren’t enough to cover all the bills. Supporters claim that taxpayers are subsidizing the workers who earn too little by paying for food stamps and other programs. A clinical professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, Fran Quigley, who is lending support to the workers at the Indianapolis McDonalds, said that profitable corporations who employ such workers often make enough money to increase wages.
More than 25 percent of Americans earning less than $15 an hour receive one or more social services, such as food stamps and Medicaid, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Supporters are also saying that if the minimum wage, which hasn’t been raised in almost a decade, had kept up with inflation rates since the 1960s, it would be at least $11 per hour today. According to Senator Elizabeth Warren, if it had kept up with worker productivity in that same time period, it would be over $22 an hour today.
Strikers claim that they are fighting for their dignity, just asking to be treated like people and paid what they are worth. However, people opposed to the wage increase have ranged from vehemently outspoken and even insulting to professionally reserved as they point out why the wage increase is infeasible. The wage increase would likely force most restaurants to pass along higher costs to customers, which would cause a further decline in already slow sales and cause employers to cut workers.
“Margins are already squeezed because consumers have been cutting back,’’ said Bonnie Riggs, of industry tracker NPD. “The restaurant industry has had to discount heavily just to keep people coming through the door. And there would have to be significant prices increase to absorb the cost of higher wages.”
It seems likely that both sides will continue to present their sides and while a more than 100 percent pay increase seems farfetched; hopefully, some kind of agreement can be reached with which both sides will be satisfied. All eyes will be on the federal minimum wage and the politicians in Washington that have the power to change it. Perhaps increased social pressure and awareness will force conversations in our nation’s capital.
Contact: Amanda Browning 812-663-3111 x7004