All across the country, workers from Wendy's to Walmart are protesting for better working conditions. Most recently, U.S. workers took part in a nationwide strike at fast food restaurants in 60 cities. Their demands were simple: increase wages to $15 an hour, protect the right to unionize, and respect workers on the job. A few months earlier, Walmart workers walked off the job marching to the same tune: they wanted higher pay, better hours, and respect.
While striking workers are fighting for their future, they're also fighting for the future of our workforce. During the recession, 21% of jobs lost were low-paying jobs, but now 58% of jobs created are low-wage. In the new economy, workers get off of unemployment and into jobs making $7.25 an hour. In fact, 40% of workers in the U.S. earning less that $10 an hour have some college or a college degree. Many workers have student loans to pay off--27% have children and just 16% are teens--on salaries of as low as $11,000 a year.
With a stagnant federal minimum wage, increasing healthcare costs, and increasing costs of living, workers have reached their breaking point. Already earning low wages, many are regularly getting their hours cut or their schedules shifted. They've been pushed to their limits, and they're pushing back. Thirteen fast-food workers were arrested for civil disobedience in New York City during the August 29th fast food strike, just a week after a similar arrest of ten Walmart workers in D.C.
For many, the movement is just beginning. Membership of OUR Walmart, the group organizing workers at Walmart, has increased by 25% since protests on Black Friday. Fast food strikers grew from 200 to thousands, from one city to sixty, in just nine months.
Despite the steep road ahead, Walmart workers aren't giving up. They're organizing massive protests on September 5th to demand justice for 70 workers who were disciplined and fired after they went on strike in early June. Many cities anticipate that hundreds will protest, and many workers will again risk arrest.
Each worker protest seems to raise the bar for the next. Membership is growing, protests are getting bigger, and low-wage workers are joining together. From Wendy's to Walmart, workers are becoming more and more courageous and are willing to put their jobs on the line to earn better wages.
The question now isn't if the workers will give up, but if they will succeed, and how far they will go to win what they deserve.
Follow Charlene Obernauer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/charlene_amber