Fast food workers strike for living wage, right to unionize

DOWNTOWN – Dozens of demonstrators hold up signs outside a Wendy's at the corner of Broadway and 1st Avenue. “We are not asking for the stars, we're asking for a living wage,” says a man on a megaphone. “It's a human right, not a privilege.”

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a fast food job is about $9.14 an hour.

The dozens of protesters marching today are calling for $15 an hour. They include people like 19-year-old Violeta Gonzalez, who walked off her job at Wendy's to join the demonstration.

Violeta earns even less than the median – a little more than $8 an hour. “(Take-home pay is) about $200, that's it,” she says. “It's not enough. I can't live on this. I can't just live on this.”

Raquel Neri also walked off her job at Wendy's. A single mother with seven children, she only makes $9.55

“It's very difficult to pay her bills,” says Violeta, interpreting for Neri, “her rent, like any basics, with $9.55 an hour, it's not enough.”

Violeta says Neri tells her she earns that wage after ten years on the job.

A coalition of labor and community groups supporting the workers says while fast food companies rake in huge profits, their employees scrape by.

“It's not a job just for teenagers trying to make some pocket money,” says Peter Brownell of the Center for Policy Initiatives, also in attendance at the rally. “People are trying to raise their families on these kinds of jobs, because they're the only jobs that are available for many people right now.”

This movement for higher wages began a year ago, when about 200 fast food workers walked off the job in New York City. 

Activists say lower wages mean more families must rely on food stamps and other sorts of public assistance. A study from UC Berkeley estimates that low wages cost state taxpayers more than $700 million in public aid.

“Over half of them are on some kind of public benefits like food stamps,” says Brownell. “The taxpayers are paying those funds. Fast food companies could pay everything that their employees are receiving in public benefits and still make billions of dollars every year.”

The protesters also want the right to form a union.

But the fast food companies offer a different view.

In a written statement, McDonalds spokesperson Lisa McComb says the following:

McDonald's and our owner-operators are committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed.  We offer employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits.  And we invest in training and professional development that helps them learn practical and transferable business skills.

We also respect the right to voice an opinion. To right-size the headlines, however, the events taking place are not strikes. Outside groups are traveling to McDonald's and other outlets to stage rallies. Our restaurants remain open today- and every day- thanks to our dedicated employees serving our customers.

The response from Wendy's representative Denny Lynch is more curt, saying the company

is proud that we can help people who want to work.  We give thousands of people who apply for an entry-level job the opportunity to learn important business and personal skills so they can either grow with us… or move on to another career. 

An executive with the National Restaurant Association says a wage hike to $15 an hour would raise prices and hurt job growth, while increasing burdens on the companies that create jobs.

The workers and their supporters at this rally say that shouldn't mean that they can't earn a living wage.

“Because a full time job should lift you out of poverty,” says Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, speaking at the protest, “not keep you in poverty.”



Sasha Foo

Categories: KUSI