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Fast Food Workers Rise

By: James Gordon

On May 15, protestors in Miami gathered around a local McDonald’s and Wendy’s to partake in a nationwide strike in support of higher pay and fairer working conditions for fast food workers. The one-day strike was part of a rapidly growing campaign that is gaining both national and international traction, with 150 U.S. cities and 30 countries having partaken in walkout according to Salon’s Josh Eidelson.  Since the fast food industry saw its first significant worker strike in New York City in November of 2012, the demands of the campaign have been consistent and uncompromising, calling for an increase in the minimum pay to $15 per hour and the right to unionize without retaliation.
With a struggling economy and a highly competitive job market, more and more workers are turning towards the fast food industry for employment in order to support themselves and their families. As the demographic amongst fast food workers shifts, the industry must be able to accommodate and meet the changing needs of its workers. A report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research reveals that that the majority of fast food workers are in fact 25 years or older—not teenaged high school students as common misperception might hold.  Furthermore, of the percentage of non-teenaged workers, about 85 percent of them hold at least a high school degree. The pay range for the large majority of these workers falls between the federal minimum wage of $7.15 per hour and $10.10 per hour. For a fast food worker working full-time, the lower end of this pay range puts them just above the poverty line of $11,670 as determined by the Office of the Assistant for Planning and Evaluation. However, one must keep in mind that this guideline is the standard for single person households while more than a third of workers over the age of 20 are raising at least one child. If the minimum pay increases to $15 per hour, a full-time employee would make about $30,000 per year. There is a great disparity between the current average wage being earned, the wage workers are advocating for, and the wage they should be earning—$22 an hour— had the minimum wage adjusted to meet inflation. This discrepancy underscores just how necessary a minimum wage increase is, and how it is still far from where it should be for it to fully meet the financial realities of today’s workers.
To the satisfaction of many supporters of raising the minimum wage, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson appears to have heard his workers’ call for change. According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, Thompson recently announced during a talk at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management last month that he would support a bill backed by President Obama that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. This bold and promising statement by Thompson marks a huge victory for fast food workers, signifying that their voices are being heard. Though $10.10 is not quite the $15 being demanded by our fast food workers, it is certainly a step in the right direction towards promoting economic equality and financial sustainability for our workers.