NEW YORK -- Fast-food customers in search of burgers and fries on Thursday might run into striking workers instead.
Organizers say thousands of fast-food workers are set to stage walkouts in dozens of cities around the country, part of a push to get chains such as McDonald's, Taco Bell and Wendy's to pay workers higher wages.
It's expected be the largest nationwide strike by fast-food workers, according to organizers. The biggest effort so far was over the summer when about 2,200 of the nation's millions of fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven cities.
Thursday's planned walkouts follow a series of strikes that began last November in New York City, then spread to cities including Chicago, Detroit and Seattle. Workers say they want $15 an hour, which would be about $31,000 a year for full-time employees. That's more than double the federal minimum wage, which many fast food workers make, of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.
The move comes amid calls from the White House, some members of Congress and economists to hike the federal minimum wage, which was last raised in 2009. But most proposals seek a far more modest increase than the ones workers are asking for, with President Barack Obama wanting to boost it to $9 an hour.
The push has brought considerable media attention to a staple of the fast-food industry – the so-called "McJobs" that are known for their low pay and limited prospects. But the workers taking part in the strikes still represent a tiny fraction of the broader industry. And it's not clear if the strikes on Thursday will shut down any restaurants because organizers made their plans public earlier in a call for workers around the country to participate, which gave managers time to adjust their staffing levels. More broadly, it's not clear how many customers are aware of the movement, with turnout for past strikes relatively low in some cities.
Laila Jennings, a 29-year-old sales associate at T.J. Maxx, was eating at a McDonald's in New York City this week and said she hadn't heard of the movement. Still, she said she thinks workers should be paid more. "They work on their feet all day," Jennings said, adding that $12 to $15 an hour seemed fair.
As it stands, fast-food workers say they can't live on what they're paid.
Shaniqua Davis, 20, lives in the Bronx with her boyfriend, who is unemployed, and their 1-year-old daughter. Davis has worked at a McDonald's a few blocks from her apartment for the past three months, earning $7.25 an hour. Her schedule varies, but she never gets close to 40 hours a week. "Forty? Never. They refuse to let you get to that (many) hours."
Her weekly paycheck is $150 or much lower. "One of my paychecks, I only got $71 on there. So I wasn't able to do much with that. My daughter needs stuff, I need to get stuff for my apartment," said Davis, who plans to take part in the strike Thursday.
She pays the rent with public assistance but struggles to afford food, diapers, subway and taxi fares, cable TV and other expenses with her paycheck.
"It's really hard," she said. "If I didn't have public assistance to help me out, I think I would have been out on the street already with the money I make at McDonald's."
McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say that they don't make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants.
For the restaurants it does own, McDonald's said in a statement that pay starts at minimum wage but the range goes higher, depending on the employee's position and experience level. It said that raising entry-level wages would mean higher overall costs, which could result in higher prices on menus.
"That would potentially have a negative impact on employment and business growth in our restaurants, as well as value for our customers," the company said in a statement.
The Wendy's Co. and Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, did not respond to a request for comment.
The National Restaurant Association says the low wages reflect the fact that most fast-food workers tend to be younger and have little work experience. Scott DeFife, a spokesman for the group, says that doubling wages would hurt job creation, noting that fast-food chains are already facing higher costs for ingredients, as well as new regulations that will require them to pay more in health care costs.
Still, the actions are striking a chord in some corners.
Robert Reich, a worker advocate and former Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration, said that the struggles of living on low wages is hitting close to home for many because of the weak economic climate.
"More and more, people are aware of someone either in their wider circle of friends or extended family who has fallen on hard times," Reich said.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which is providing the fast-food strikes with financial support and training, said the actions in recent months show that fast-food workers can be mobilized, despite the industry's relatively higher turnover rates and younger age.
"The reality has totally blown through the obstacles," she said.
Follow Candice Choi at http://www.twitter.com/candicechoi
Also on HuffPost:
If you're looking for a trove of photos from today's fast food strikes head over to this Tumblr created by Working America, a working family advocacy organization.
Here's one photo already featured on the Tumblr via @MOJobsWithJustice:
Photo via Matthew Filipowicz:
Advocacy groups claim a Burger King in Raleigh, North Carolina offered to pay workers more if they didn't go on strike. Unrelated to the groups' claims, Burger King told the Associated Press that the company doesn't make "decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants."
Photo via California Labor:
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich argues in a recent video that McDonald's and Walmart can afford to meet fast food workers' demands of $15 per hour wages.
Robert Reich, who certainly knows a thing or two about labor and economic policy, says it's time for some of the nation's largest employers to start paying their workers a living wage.
In a petition he launched on MoveOn.org on August 26, Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and is also a Huffington Post blogger, urges corporations like McDonald's and Walmart to increase wages so workers can finally "get a fair share in this economy." The petition, which had 6,956 on Thursday afternoon, is to be delivered to McDonalds CEO Don Thompson and Walmart CEO Michael Duke.
“Your typical employee is now earning $8.25 to $8.80 an hour,” Reich states in the petition. “[Walmart and McDonald’s] can easily afford to pay [workers] $15 an hour without causing layoffs or requiring price hikes.”
DETROIT -- Fast-food workers in Detroit were protesting outside their restaurants this morning. But by early afternoon, they had taken off.
The workers congregated in downtown Detroit, marching through the streets waving flags and banners.
Local union leaders were on hand to address the crowd of workers, including Service Employees Industry Union international leader Mary Kay Henry and Marge Robinson, president of SEIU Healthcare Michigan, which says its 55,000 members make up the state's largest local union. -- Ashley Woods
Rynetta Bennett, 23, worked at the Wendy's on Nassau Street. She was scheduled to work today. Instead, she was outside, protesting. She had worked there nearly seven years, but had not yet been promoted to manager. She said she got a ten cent raise about every six months, and no paid vacations. "This is my main income," she said. Many of her fellow workers were supportive of the cause, but decided not to appear with the strikers. "A lot are scared."
Photo via Warehouse Workers United:
Photo via NY Communities for Change:
CHICAGO -- McDonald's workers walked off the job during a one-day strike Thursday morning as part of a nationwide movement protesting low wages and labor practices.
Roughly 200 protesters including employees from McDonald's and Walmart and members of the Chicago Teachers Union and the Service Employees International Union gathered outside the Rock N' Roll McDonald's at 600 N. Clark St. in downtown Chicago to rally and state their demands.
"It's an amazing day because we have about 60 cities joining us," Deivid Rojas, communications director for Fight For 15, said Thursday. "The workers were really inspired because they were among the first workers back in April to go on strike. The support from other cities gives them gives them confirmation."
"It's not liveable," Tyree Johnson, who said he's been a McDonald's employee for 21 years, told HuffPost. "I've been dedicated to McDonald's for the past 21 years. I still make $8 an hour."
-- Kim Bellware
Boloco CEO John Pepper, who oversees a chain of 22 burrito shops, tells FBN’s Stuart Varney that he pays entry-level workers between $9.50 and $11 an hour.
While Pepper agrees that restaurants have traditionally made money by keeping labor costs down, he says paying employees more than the current minimum wage pays off in a more productive staff and attracts talented workers who can inspire loyalty in customers.
LOS ANGELES - Employees of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, El Pollo Loco, Jack in the Box and others plan to protest at three different Los Angeles locations Thursday to demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage, Good Jobs LA said in a statement.
The first protest began at 6 a.m. at a Burger King in South Los Angeles. Dozens of workers carried signs reading “Burgers and Lies,” “Yo Quiero $15,” and “Lovin' a Living Wage,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and was last raised in 2009. In California, it's $8 an hour and was last raised in 2008.
And yet, given living costs, an adult with one child needs to make $23.53 an hour -- full-time -- to afford the basics in Los Angeles, according to a living-wage calculator by MIT.
-- Kathleen Miles
New York City comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu called fast food workers' low wages "unconscionable," according to UPI.
The New York City comptroller came out in support of the nationwide food workers strike Thursday, saying the low level of pay they receive is "unconscionable."
"There was a time in America when most fast-food workers were high-school kids living at home and trying to make some spending money," Comptroller John C. Liu said in a statement issued by his office. "Sadly, in 2013 that is no longer the case."
A photo of workers striking in Indianapolis from The New York Times' Steven Greenhouse:
The differences are stark. The US lags behind the UK, where the minimum wage is £6.11 ($9.50) Australia, where it is 15.96 Australian dollars, ($16.91), France, €9.43($12.68), and Tokyo,$9.10. And while the US's nearest neighbour, Canada, doesn't have a minimum wage, the lowest provincial wage in Alberta is $9.73 in US dollars.
Although Canada is not part of the US strike for a minimum wage, it also has a fast-food campaign to raise the minimum wage to $14.
Armando Zapata, 22, from Ottawa, Canada, works for Tim Horton's, a fast-food coffee and donut restaurant. It has taken him three years, he said, to find a job that pays what he needs to finally make ends meet, at $11.50 Canadian ($US 10.96) an hour. But he says it is "unimaginable" that US fast-food workers earn as little as $7.25.
"Instead of always being stressed about money, I finally got to a stage that I am making ends meet," said Zapata. "I was struggling to feed myself but it's unimaginable that someone could feed a family on much less – $7.25 an hour."
The protests are spreading. Photo via journalist Emmily Bristol:
Photo via labor activist Micah Uetricht.
"They make millions that come from our feet. They can afford to pay us better," Shaniqua Davis, 20, told AFP.
Davis has a one-year-old child and works at a branch of the restaurant in the Bronx where she earns $7.25 an hour.
"I have bills to pay. I need to buy diapers. I can hardly buy food. I am treated good but we need more money."
She said if it wasn't for food stamps and help she received to pay her rent "I would already be on the street."
Oh, the irony.
Some visitors who navigated to My Fox Atlanta earlier today for coverage of the national fast food worker strikes were greeted with a McDonald's ad offering a deal on Big Macs.
Watch Fox's coverage of the strikes below:
Photo via Chicago advocacy organization Fight For 15:
DENVER -- "We can't survive on $7.25" read some of the signs outside a Northglenn McDonald's near West 104th and Huron Street.
According to a press release, Denver-area fast food workers will be calling for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation or unfair labor practices.
"In Denver, there are 41, 849 fast-food workers," Corrine Fowler, economic justice director for Colorado Progressive Coalition told The Denver Post. "They are unable to put food on their tables, they are unable to pay all of their bills and so as a result they are on food stamps, they are on safety net programs."
Organizers say the median wage for fast food workers is actually $8.84 but say than an adult with just one child needs $20.95 an hour to afford basic needs.
According to KDVR, this is the first fast food strike for Denver.
-- Andrea Rael
Donavan Richards: "I am here to tell Wendy's that they need to Super Size your paychecks"
CHICAGO -- Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) had harsh words for McDonald's CEO Donald Thompson, blasting the company's low-wage practices during a Thursday morning protest outside what's considered one of the golden arches' most profitable locations.
"[Thompson] makes in two or three hours at work what his employees make in a year," Schakowsky said to the crowd of protesters that included McDonald's employees, Wal-Mart employees, Chicago Teachers Union members and members of the Service Employees International Union.
Schakowsky also criticized the much-derided employee budget tool as protesters heckled the figures McDonald's buget tool alotted for essentials like rent and health insurance.
"If these workers were making a living wage, they would be able to create millions of good, new jobs," Schakowsky said. "Giving American workers a raise is the right thing to do and is the smart thing to do."
Following Schakowsky's remarks, McDonald's employees and members of the Fight For 15 Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago spoke to the press before heading inside the restaurant at 600 N. Clark St. to deliver a letter to the owner.
Organizers said the protest will continue Thursday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. at Federal Plaza in the Loop.
-- Kim Bellware
Writer Erik Sherman on how the fast food worker strikes highlight a national problem.
However, government statistics and studies suggest that the common picture of the fast food worker is inaccurate. Not only are relatively few of them teenagers looking for some pocket money while attending school, but the number of adults working in low-paying part-time jobs against their wishes is rapidly growing.
Everyone has a sense that fast food workers don't make a lot of money, but just how much less they earn than other Americans is spelled out in the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the study, the average hourly earnings for non-farm labor was $23.98 in July. For production and non-supervisory workers, the average hourly wage was $20.14. In contrast, the average hourly wage last year for the nation's roughly 505,000 fast-food cooks was $9.03 an hour.
Photo via The New York Times' Steven Greenhouse:
The walkouts have spread to 60 cities, according to a press release from organizers. The cities include:
Alameda, CA; Atlanta; Aurora, CO; Austin, TX; Ballwin, MO; Belleville, Ill; Berkeley, CA; Bloomington, Ill; Boston; Charlotte; Chicago; Columbia, MO; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Durham; East St. Louis, Ill; Flint; Fremont, CA; Greensboro; Gretna, LA; Hartford; Hayward, CA; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City, MO; Lansing; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Madison, WI; Manchester, CT; Memphis; Milwaukee; Missoula, MT; Newark, CA; New Orleans; New York; Northglenn, CO; North Las Vegas; Oakland; Richmond, CA; Peoria; Phoenix; Pontiac, MI; Raleigh; Richmond, CA; San Diego; San Leandro, CA; San Lorenzo, CA.; Seattle; Springfield, Ill; St. Louis; Tacoma, WA; Tampa; Topeka, KS; Wausau, WI; West Haven, CT; and Wilmington, DE.
Tweet via @FastFoodForward:
Between 2000 and 2012, the cost of two all-beef patties, special sauce etc. climbed 72%, to $4.33 from $2.51.
Over the same period, the median fast food worker wage increased just 33%, to $8.78 from $6.52.
10. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif.
> 1 yr. wage growth: -0.8% > Average weekly wage: $849 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 13.0% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 11.2% > 1 yr. employment change: +7.8% The average wage per week in the Santa Cruz metropolitan area was $849 in the fourth quarter of 2012, down slightly from $856 a year prior. Although employment grew by 7.8% between December 2011 and December 2012, much of the growth was in lower-paying fields. The leisure and hospitality industry, a low-paying occupation and one of the larger private industries in the Santa Cruz area, grew by 11.7% during that time. Other prominent industries that pay generally higher wages grew at far smaller rates. For instance, employment in the education and health services grew by less than 1%. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>
9. Sandusky, Ohio
> 1 yr. wage growth: -0.8% > Average weekly wage: $701 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 8.6% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 7.3% > 1 yr. employment change: -1.7% Unemployment in Sandusky fell from December 2011 to December 2012, but this was due to a shrinking labor force. In fact, the number of non-farm jobs in the metro actually area fell 1.7% between December 2011 and the same month in 2012. This included a drop in the number of jobs in generally higher paying industries such as business services and manufacturing. The number of people working in the lower-paying leisure and hospitality industry, however, increased by 3.4% in December 2012 from December 2011. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>
8. Ocean City, N.J.
> 1 yr. wage growth: -1.1% > Average weekly wage: $737 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 16.3% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 17.3% > 1 yr. employment change: +6.5% Ocean City is one of just eight metropolitan areas where average weekly wages declined by more than 1% from the fourth quarter of 2011 to the fourth quarter of 2012. Despite employment growing by 6.5% between December 2011 and December 2012, a jump in the number of people coming back into the labor force pushed the unemployment rate up an entire percentage point during that time period. Ocean City was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, which likely led to an increase in unemployment in late 2012. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>
7. Las Cruces, N.M.
> 1 yr. wage growth: -1.2% > Average weekly wage: $678 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 7.0% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 6.7% > 1 yr. employment change: -1.0% The average weekly wage of $678 in Las Cruces in the fourth quarter of 2012 was at its lowest point since 2008. Much of the wage decline could be due to increases in lower-paying jobs in lieu of higher-paying ones. The public sector, the largest in the Las Cruces area and generally higher paying, shrank by 4.1% from December 2011 to December 2012. The largest private industry, the generally lower-paying education and health services, grew its job count by 3.1%. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>
6. Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Wash.
> 1 yr. wage growth: -1.3% > Average weekly wage: $894 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 9.9% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 9.7% > 1 yr. employment change: -1.1% The 1.3% wage decline from the fourth quarter of 2011 to 2012 was actually less severe than in previous quarters. From the third quarter or 2011 to the third quarter of 2012, average weekly wages dropped by 7.1%. The Kennewick area experienced a spike in unemployment last year due to the completion of several stimulus projects. Some of these lost jobs were in higher-paying occupations, likely contributing to the overall wage decline in 2012. For example, professional and business services lost 7.9% of jobs in 2012 compared to 2011. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>
5. Flint, Mich.
> 1 yr. wage growth: -1.4% > Average weekly wage: $816 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 9.8% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 9.1% > 1 yr. employment change: +0.1% Although the unemployment rate in the Flint metro area fell 0.7 percentage points between December 2011 and December 2012, the number of people employed in non-farm jobs has remained stagnant. Sectors that are generally higher paying were hit disproportionately harder. The number of jobs in professional and business services, one of the larger sectors in the area in terms of total employment, fell 1.3% from December 2011 to December 2012. Moreover, government payrolls in the Flint area dropped 4.5%. The Flint area has been in economic decline for the last several decades as auto manufacturing has moved out of the area. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>
4. Atlantic City, N.J.
> 1 yr. wage growth: -1.4% > Average weekly wage: $816 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 13.1% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 14.9% > 1 yr. employment change: -2.8% Atlantic City’s average wages rose 3.8% in the first quarter of 2012 compared to 2011, but then fell in the three remaining quarters of the year compared to the previous one. The unemployment rate jumped nearly two percentage points from December 2011 to December 2012 despite falling in metro areas across the country, compounding the problem of declining wages. Atlantic City was hit incredibly hard by Hurricane Sandy, leaving businesses destroyed and many people in the city’s tourism industry out of work. The number of jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry, the largest in the area, dropped 9% between December 2011 and December 2012. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>
3. Elizabethtown, Ky.
> 1 yr. wage growth: -1.8% > Average weekly wage: $752 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 8.5% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 7.3% > 1 yr. employment change: +1.2% The $752 average weekly wage in Elizabethtown during the fourth quarter of 2012 was $14, or 1.8% lower than it was in the same quarter in 2011. Jobs in professional services and the public sector declined 2% and 0.7%, respectively, between December 2011 and December 2012. Manufacturing in the Elizabethtown area grew 10.9% during that time. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>
2. Rocky Mount, N.C.
> 1 yr. wage growth: -2.3% > Average weekly wage: $689 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 13.1% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 13.0% > 1 yr. employment change: -1.7% The average weekly wage of $689 in Rocky Mount at the end of 2012 was the first time the it dropped below $700 since 2008. Although unemployment remained at nearly the same level in December 2012 compared to the year before, the number of non-farm jobs actually declined 1.7%. Employment in the largest sector in the area — trade, transportation and utilities — declined 7.4% in that time. The only industry in the area that grew its job count during that time was the lower-paying leisure and hospitality industry, growing 3.9%. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>
1. Anniston-Oxford, Ala.
> 1 yr. wage growth: -2.4% > Average weekly wage: $743 > Dec. 2011 unemployment: 7.3% > Dec. 2012 unemployment: 6.8% > 1 yr. employment change: -0.2% No metropolitan area suffered a greater decline in average weekly wages as Anniston did in the fourth quarter of 2012. The public sector, which often pays higher wages than the private sector, declined 3% during that time. In addition, the number of jobs in trade, transportation and utilities declined by 4.2% during the year. Job cuts and wage reductions are likely to continue in the Anniston area in 2013 as the federal sequestration hits the Anniston Army Depot, which makes up a large share of the area’s workforce. <a href="http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/10/the-cities-where-wages-are-plummeting/#ixzz2Z2W4WP4t" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>