Striking "For Our Dignity," U.S. Fast Food Workers Prepare to Walk Off August 29

Search form

Striking "For Our Dignity," U.S. Fast Food Workers Prepare to Walk Off August 29

Striking "For Our Dignity," U.S. Fast Food Workers Prepare to Walk Off August 29
Wed, 8/28/2013 - by Carl Gibson

25 year-old Beijing Hill is a father of two infant children, and makes $7.25 at an Arby’s in Madison, Wisconsin. I asked Beijing why he was walking off his job on Thursday, when he desperately needs the hours.

“My last paycheck was $67, and I’m the father of two babies. They’re my whole world,” Beijing said, showing me the background of his phone which featured the wide-eyed smile of a small child.

“What am I gonna tell him when he walks up to me and says, ‘Daddy, can I have some new shoes?’ Am I just gonna say no, and then tell him we have to look for a new place to live because I don’t make enough at my job to pay the rent on time?”

On Thursday, August 29, thousands of fast food and low-wage workers in approximately 50 US cities are walking off the job in a massive one-day strike to protest low wages at very profitable companies. The fast food industry makes $200 billion in profits each year. McDonalds CEO Don Thompson saw his salary triple from $4.1 million to $13.8 million just between 2011 and 2013.

In the meantime, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t been raised in almost a decade. If the minimum wage kept up with inflation since the 1960s, it would be over $11 an hour. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out further that if the minimum wage had kept up with worker productivity in that same period, it would be over $22 an hour today.

For a family of four to be considered in poverty, that household has to make less than $23,000 a year, according to federal poverty standards. A minimum wage earner’s annual income currently falls short of the federal poverty line by more than $5,000.

Take Amber, who works at a Dollar Tree in Madison and makes $7.25 an hour. Her last pay stub shows she earned just $104 in the last pay period. Because rent is so high and wages are so low, Amber is homeless during the week and rotates from shelter to shelter on the weekends. I interviewed her at the Hawthorne Branch of the Madison Public Library. During our interview, Amber’s 8-month-old daughter, Maria, had just walked down a set of steps for the first time in her life. Amber was watching from the corner of her eye while we spoke and started to cry tears of joy.

“If I could, I’d like to work with children someday. I’d be a teacher, as long as the kids were young enough that they wouldn’t give me too much trouble,” Amber said after I asked what her dream job would be. “But it’s hard enough just finding a place to stay at night and finding people to watch Maria when I’m at work.”

22-year-old Meghan Ford is in a similar predicament. Her job at Dunkin' Donuts pays just $8.25 an hour. That low wage combined with rising costs of everything else are hindering her abilities to use the college degree she earned – with $20,000 in loans to pay off as a result.

Critics of the fast food and retail workers’ strikes say those low-paying jobs are historically meant for people in transition, or for those who lack the necessary education. Meghan, who wants to move to Chicago but lacks the financial means to do so, says that’s a myth.

“I’ve got a bachelor’s degree in political science, with a minor in sociology,” Ford said. “How am I supposed to realize the American Dream when I don’t even make enough to buy food? I eat one meal a day. I live with roommates and even then 90% of my paycheck still goes to rent. I work hard for a very profitable company. I deserve to be treated with respect just like anybody else.”

At least 80% of Americans will have or have had to experience poverty at some point in their lives, according to a recent survey. And demographics show that fast food workers are actually much older than the average high-school student – the average fast food worker is 28, and two-thirds are women with children, providing for families on a wage far below the poverty line with no benefits or collective bargaining rights. In the meantime, with $27 billion in annual revenue, McDonalds makes enough money to be the world’s 90th largest economy.

18-year-old Gage, a father of two and a shift manager at the same Dunkin' Donuts where Meghan Ford works, had the day off when I interviewed him at his home. He had just gotten done working a “triple-shift” – from 10am Saturday to 4pm Sunday, taking one hour in between those 30 to sleep in the back office. Gage said his superiors told him he was “letting down the Dunkin' corporation” when he took a weekend off to visit family in his hometown of Chicago while his wife, who also works at Dunkin' Donuts, stayed home and watched their children.

“It’s not just the one store I work at. Thousands of people at thousands of stores are being treated this same way,” Gage said. “If I was paid $15 an hour, I’d feel lucky to work at Dunkin' and would make sure the donuts were put in the bag right side up, that the coffee was made right, and take pride in what I do. All I’m asking for is to be treated like a human being.”

One article that has gained viral attention pointed out that McDonalds could double its workers’ wages and offset those costs by raising the price of a Big Mac by 68 cents. Another article from Business Insider made the bolder argument that McDonalds could simply adapt a more benevolent corporate policy and double workers’ wages while still making $5.5 billion in profit instead of $8.5 billion. Workers could share in the enormous profits that their labor makes possible, and company shareholders would still see dividends.

When I asked Beijing Hill why he believes he deserves $15 an hour for the work he does, he said it came down to a matter of mutual respect.

“We come to work on time, do what the manager says, and help make money for a billion-dollar company. If we all walk out, they don’t make that money. So all we want is that equal respect. We help them, now they have to help us,” Beijing said. “We’re striking because we need to show these companies that we’re through playing around.”

To find a strike near you, or to learn more about the fast food worker strikes, visit lowpayisnotok.org.

 
 
 

Article Tabs

A new in-depth report has revealed the influence the government-industry revolving door has had on Big Oil's ability to obtain four liquefied natural gas export permits since 2012 from the Obama Administration.

Forces both inside and outside the traditional labor movement united to campaign for a higher minimum wage for hotel workers in Los Angeles.

The Crosscheck purge list swamped GOP Senate margins in Alaska and Georgia, and likely provided the victory margins for GOP gubernatorial victories in Kansas and Massachusetts.

Among other human health and environmental violations, the TPP agreement will facilitate harsh legislation that further restricts free speech, privacy and innovation.

Attending Bilderberg is not a guarantee for holding high office – but it can often support a rapid rise to state power for politicians who impress the members and guests at the annual meetings.

This was the biggest scandal to ever hit the land recordation system in this country, and those who were responsible should be held accountable.

Posted 5 days 22 hours ago

The worldwide protest sentiment is not going away anytime soon.

Posted 5 days 21 hours ago

Over 300,000 Internet users contributed to our crowdsourced vision for free expression online in the 21st century. What matters most to the Internet community? Watch this animated video to find out.

Posted 5 days 22 hours ago

Raleigh resident Bibi Bowman says the fact that a police officer called her and told her to take down a Facebook post is an invasion of her privacy and a thinly-veiled attempt to intimidate her into silence.

Posted 2 days 22 hours ago

The Nordic nation of 5.6 million has been at the forefront of wind power innovation since the 1890s, when one of its leading scientists, Poul la Cour, began testing turbines.

Posted 6 days 17 hours ago

Instead of loaning students money, the federal government could just pay for the tuition without causing any significant economic problems. There is no fiscal reason why the student debt crisis should exist.

Over 300,000 Internet users contributed to our crowdsourced vision for free expression online in the 21st century. What matters most to the Internet community? Watch this animated video to find out.

A new Financial Times survey shows the majority of UK voters believe that instead of using harsh public cuts to peel back the deficit, other forms of extravagant government spending should be abolished.

With a $150 million World Bank loan, the Ugandan government plans to construct roads to service oil companies, provide scholarships for oil workers and fund an oil institute. But what about helping its own people?

According to new research, the richest one-hundredth of one percent of Americans now hold over 11 percent of the nation’s total wealth – a higher share than the top .01 percent held in 1929 before the Great Crash.

Sign Up