Fast-food strikers: ‘$15 and a union!’

Fast-food and other low-wage workers walked off their jobs in some 150 U.S. cities on May 15 to demand a minimum wage of $15 an our and the right to join a union without retaliation. The action was taken in coordination with strikes and protests by low-wage workers in 150 U.S. cities, and in 30 other countries from Britain to Panama to New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. Fast Food Forward and other groups supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) were the main organizers of the protests in the United States.

According to Socialist Action reporter Tony Savino, about 200 workers rallied in New York City’s Herald Square before marching through some of Midtown Manhattan’s busiest streets (see photo). Latinos and other recent immigrants were heavily represented in the march, one of several actions that took place in the city on May 15.

Bill Onasch writes from Kansas City that “the fast food actions here involved about 500 people. My guess is that it was about a 60-40 split between fast-food workers and labor/community allies.”

A striking McDonald’s worker told a Channel 9 reporter covering a 6 a.m. protest at a Golden Arches in Kansas City: “We’re going to do whatever it takes. We’re going to come out here and fight. We’re going to let them know we want $15 an hour and a union.” This was the first of several Kansas City area events over a 12-hour period. In the early afternoon, another action took place in Shawnee Park, near a McDonald’s in the Armourdale district of Kansas City, Kan. Firefighters donated food and labor to give the activists a hearty lunch.

Ernie Gotta reports that nearly 100 people marched and rallied in Hartford, Conn, one of many actions around the state by striking workers and their supporters.

Hartford strikers chanted, “What’s outrageous? Poverty wages!” as they marched through the parking lots of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Dunkin Donuts. They were greeted with solidarity by a heavy chorus of car horns including blasts from a Teamster tractor trailer, driven out for the action by Local 671’s president, who represents 1100 UPS workers nearby.

Labor and community support has been important to the movement. A fear of getting fired has kept many workers who may support the effort to organize off the picket line. Samuel Velez, a McDonald’s worker in Hartford and a participant in two other fast food strike actions, told Socialist Action newspaper that he tells his coworkers, “Don’t be afraid, join us, you won’t get fired. We got your back.”

Many workers like Velez have children and see building this movement as a way to better provide for their families. When asked about what he thinks the future will hold for the $15 and a union movement, Velez said, “I really think we’re going to get $15 an hour because these stores can’t stop us.”

The strikers in Hartford ended the day by marching into Burger King to encourage their coworkers to join the strike. The noise level was so high that customers could not place their order, and police were called in to disperse the strikers. As the restaurant cleared, a strong refrain of “We’ll be back!” filled the air.

Michael Schreiber reports from Philadelphia that about 100 fast-food workers and their supporters, accompanied by a young people’s drum corps, marched on May 15. The opening rally, outside a MacDonald’s franchise, was led by Fred Jones of Fight For Philly, a community organization linked with SEIU. The protesters attempted to enter the building to briefly address the workers inside but were turned away by city cops.

Strikers who addressed the rally included Glenn Davis, 44, who has worked at a MacDonald’s for more than a year and gets a check for $200 every two weeks. Davis said that later in the day he was due in court in order to try to save his house from foreclosure. “It’s hard when you go home and your electricity is off,” and all the food in the refrigerator is ruined, he said.

Davis told a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer that several years ago he had a steady job as a regional maintenance supervisor, in which he earned $12 an hour, plus overtime pay. However, his efforts to help unionize his coworkers cost him his job.

Striking MacDonald’s worker Munira Evans told Socialist Action newspaper that she is struggling to support her two children. “Everything is going up—the price of milk, electricity,” she pointed out. “Why can’t our wages also go up?”

After marching down Broad St., the protesters rallied a second time outside another MacDonald’s near City Hall. Chants included, “MacDonald’s, come off it! You’ve made enough profit!”

Shamira Jones told the rally that she works two jobs in order to try to make ends meet; one is at the airport and the other is at a Popeye’s. Although she has worked at the airport for five years, she still makes only $7.60 an hour. Michael Burrell, 25, is a cabin cleaner at the airport and makes $7.25 an hour with no benefits. Addressing strikers who are fast-food workers, he said, “Why should you guys make food [for customers], when you can’t eat properly yourselves?”

Several workers complained that they are forced to put in extra hours of work for which they never receive compensation. A man named Justin, who works at a MacDonald’s, said that at the end of a week, when he reviews all the hours of work that he put in, the wages that he received “don’t add up.” But when he asks about the missing money, the managers reprimand him and say that he’s “got an attitude.”

A young woman who works at Subway for $7.50 an hour concluded, “I’m striking today for $15 and a union because I want my daughter to have a better life. We’ve fighting for the future. You can’t be afraid to speak out.”

Socialist Action photo by Tony Savino: Low-wage strikers and supporters rally in New York City on May 15.

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