Fast food workers strike in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Josh Eidelson)
Fast food workers in cities all across the country are expected to strike Thursday as part of growing protests against the nation’s biggest restaurant and retailer chains. Low-wage workers at businesses like McDonald’s and Macy’s are fighting for a living wage of $15 an hour in pay, which is more than double the current national minimum wage of $7.25.
Organizing against low-paying jobs at fast food restaurants began last November in New York when hundreds of workers went on strike in a one-day protest. By the summer, the movement expanded to include thousands of workers across the country in cities like Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City.
This time around, workers in places like Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Memphis and Raleigh plan on getting involved with backing from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
There have already been tangible results from the strikes. Jonathan Westin, who helped organize New York’s first fast food strike as the executive director of New York Communities for Change, says some local workers have seen wage increases of twenty-five to fifty cents per hour, and Steve Ashby, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations, says some Chicago strikers have also gotten higher wages post-strike.
The achievements, while modest, have also had another effect: lending courage to other workers who want to strike for living wages.
Angela Gholston, 24, has been working at a McDonald’s in Detroit for two years, and says she’s participating in the strike to help form a union, and make better wages so she can support her family and pay her bills.
“I receive Medicaid because I can’t even afford to pay for my employer’s healthcare plan,” she says.
Gholston has participated in past strikes at work, and says she feels emboldened by the organizing she’s seen in other states.
“They’re trying to help us and we’re trying to help them, and that’s good. We have to stand together in order to keep this movement going. We need [$15-per-hour minimum wage], not $7.40. What can we do with $7.40?”
Gholston says she wasn’t hesitant to participate in the strike, even though she lacks the protection of a union.
“We need to make a union. That’s the whole point of going on strike. If you don’t take action and stand up for what’s right, who is going to do it for you? I wasn’t scared at all.”
Mike Wilder, co-founder of the African-American Civic Engagement Roundtable in Milwaukee and Community Coalition Coordinator with Wisconsin Jobs Now, and campaign leader of Raise Up MKE—a group focused on fighting for living wages—says the strike is about holding profitable companies accountable for not paying workers enough to afford basic amenities like food and rent.