Labor Prepares For Largest Fast-Food Wage Strike In History



If The Grapes of Wrath were written in today’s day and age there’d be a number of key differences. Instead of farmers fighting for unity and a pay change, it’d be fast-food workers, they’d have cell-phones, and it’d be set globally — no Dust Bowl. So far, the Fries of Fury is not a success story, but based on the gathering number of workers and continued protests, the battle is far from over. Jokes aside, the issue is a big one for workers who are struggling to make ends meet and a major political one for advocates of a minimum wage increase — with President Barack Obama a big voice behind it recently — after Congress proved resistant to passing a national wage change, leaving it to states and corporations to make their own moves.

The efforts stemming from fast-food workers have been going on for a long while now, with single day strikes organized multiple times over the last eighteen months. The protests as they stand constitute the largest fast-food wage strike in history, including 150 cities in the U.S. and eighty cities in thirty 0ther countries. This global expansion is particularly important considering the amount of revenue big fast-food chains pull in from overseas. By attacking that revenue on multiple fronts, protestors are better able to target corporations of such enormous size, including KFC and McDonald’s.

Protestors are demanding pay nearly doubled from around $7.25 to $7.75 up to $15 with union representation, wearing shirts bearing “Fast Food Forward” slogans in New York City where the protests began. There, protest leader and organizer Naquasia LeGrand, 22, speaks to the crowd, according to The Los Angeles Times. “It’s good seeing all you beautiful people coming together to support this movement that’s taken national. It’s not just New York no more.”

Unions in Europe and Asia are also joining, and protests are slated to take place in thirty cities in Japan, twenty in Britain, five in Brazil, and three in India, according to The New York Times. Also on board is the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association, a labor federation that has 12 million workers in 126 countries able to lend support to the cause. “Fast-food workers in many other parts of the world face the same corporate policies — low pay, no guaranteed hours and no benefits,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union, to The New York Times.

According to UC Berkeley Labor Center numbers, Americans pay in taxes and social programs what companies are failing to pay in wages and benefits. In a 2013 report, the center found that “the combination of low wages and benefits, often coupled with part-time employment, means that many of the families of fast-food workers must rely on taxpayer-funded safety net programs to make ends meet.” It shows that 52 percent of families of fast-food workers are in one or more public programs, compared to a 25 percent average of all workers.

Looking just at fast-food worker public assistance costs, the tally reached $7 billion annually, $3.9 billion of which is likely from Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, while $1.04 billion in food stamps and $1.91 billion in Earned Income Tax Credit payments were reported. The report is also careful to note that it is not just part time workers included in this statistics, but that over 50 percent of fast food workers considered full time still require public assistance programs.

While fast-food work is often associated with younger workers — a good high school job — that turns out not to be the case in many instances. An August 2013 analysis from The Center for Economic and Policy Research showed that the largest percentage of workers in the fast food industry were between 25 and 54, at 36.4 percent, while 30.7 percent were between 20 and 24, and 30 percent between 16 and 19. Fifty percent were 23 or older, and one in four workers were shown to have at least one child. Look at those 20 years and older, this increases to one in three. Only 15.9 percent have less than a high school education, while 46.5 percent had a GED, 31.4 percent have some college education, and 6.2 percent have a college degree or more. Eighty-four percent are American-born, and 15 percent are foreign-born.

Companies like McDonald’s are well aware of the dire situation they are dealing with. In its recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, McDonald’s listed higher pay under the “risks to business” category for its stock filing in 2013. It said, according to Aljazeera America, that “The impact of (wage) campaigns by labor organizations and activists, including through the use of social media and other communications and applications” might pose a threat to the fast food brand if wages aren’t increased.

The year before, McDonald’s attempted to assuage some of this wage publicity with a Visa partnership that produced a financial planing site for its low-pay workers. The budget does little other than to prove a lack of understanding and realism — and is now unavailable online. The Atlantic writes that it assumed not only that workers would have a second job, but that they didn’t pay a heating bill, had rent of $600 dollars a month (considerably less than the U.S. average), and gas and groceries are not included in the budget, nor are any of the expenses of raising one or more children.

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