Fast food workers strike for a living wage

Thousands of fast-food workers walked off the job for one day on Aug. 29 in at least 58 U.S. cities from coast to coast. Strikers targeted McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King, Kentucky Fried, YUM! and more.

“We can’t survive on $7.25,” hundreds of workers and supporters chanted in the Aug. 29 march in New York City. In some locations, workers and supporters briefly occupied workplaces, such as in New York and Los Angeles. A McDonald’s restaurant in Detroit was forced to close as workers and supporters picketed outside. Dozens of workers in Las Vegas carried signs reading, “Strike for a living wage” and “Huelga por $15” (“Strike for $15).

Workers are demanding $15 an hour pay and union recognition without retaliation. Major fast food corporations’ each have yearly profits exceeding $1 billion, while they pay the federal minimum wage to the workers.

The strikes by fast-food workers began last November in New York City. The refusal of a New York Wendy’s to let a striker come back to work sparked a support rally that quickly led to the worker’s being re-hired. In late July, a series of rolling work stoppages involved about 2200 workers in seven cities.

This time, many of the walk-outs took place in areas that historically have had low union participation, as in the South. “You would think it would be very hard to organize, because [North Carolina] is a right-to-work state and because people have been living under fear of being fired for the most minute issue … but to be honest with you, people are just fed up,” Corine Mac, a Charlotte-based community organizer affiliated with the NAACP, Center for Community Change and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, told MSNBC.

Socialist Action reporters in Hartford, Conn., report that workers walked out of several chain restaurants there (Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, and Subway) with the support of area residents. A few workers had heard about the nationwide movement for higher wages and contacted SEIU Local 1199 to join the campaign.

However, last-minute tactics by the bosses reduced turnout significantly. In many locations workers were intimidated in one form or another. In one location in Hartford they were given a 40-cent raise on the day before the walk-out, and employees went to work in order to protect the raise. Still, a few workers who hadn’t planned on joining the day of action walked out at the last minute.

Starting at 5:45 a.m. the Hartford workers and their supporters traveled from one location to another, ending the protest in an afternoon rally.  The crowd grew from about 50 to about 100.  At some locations the crowd entered the store with elected officials to remind management the workers have a right to collective action and can’t be subjected to retaliation. Workers who had walked out spoke to their co-workers as well.  The experience was thrilling for many.

There was some concern among union staff over organizing a strike without a union, but no reports of retaliation have yet surfaced. To the contrary, some staff said the most common outcome nationally is that management becomes more careful to avoid workers’ rights violations like unpaid overtime.

Daniel Adam in Hartford, Conn., and Marty Goodman in New York City contributed to this report. Photo by Tony Savino / Socialist Action.