Fast food workers strike at a Jimmy John’s in Soulard on Wednesday, May 8. (Photo from Ben Zucker)

Fast food and retail workers in St. Louis, Missouri, walked off the job Wednesday in the third major strike of its kind in recent weeks. The walkout came after a citywide fast food and retail workers strike in New York on April 4th and another in Chicago on April 24.

Workers at Jimmy John’s in the Soulard neighborhood were the first to walk out in a surprise strike, and employees at a McDonald’s in north county followed Wednesday evening. Organizers anticipated that workers at at least thirty restaurants, including Wendy’s, Hardee’s and Domino’s, would join in additional walkouts on Thursday. Like strikers in New York and Chicago, the St. Louis workers are calling for a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. The current hourly minimum wage in Missouri is $7.35.

The “STL Can’t Survive On $7.35” campaign is being spearheaded by the organizing group St. Louis Jobs With Justice. And while a living wage is a central demand of the campaign, Missouri Jobs With Justice director Lara Granich says that at organizing meetings, the most common complaints have to do with issues of dignity. Workers overwhelmingly express that they’re not being treated with respect by their employers. Rasheen Aldridge, a striking Jimmy John’s employee, described the disparaging treatment workers in his store are subjected to in a video for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch“We’re treated like crap basically. It’s almost like new-day slavery.”

Angela Harrison, a McDonald’s employee striking on Wednesday, echoed that sentiment. “We want respect, and we want fifteen and a union, and that’s not too much to ask for.” She said that even workers who had been physically hurt on the job or burned by equipment were not treated properly. “We want simple things, like the first-aid kit to be fully stocked all the time.” Harrison also pointed to the lack of sick days as an issue she’d like to see resolved. Right now she has to choose between coming to work sick, putting customers at risk or missing out on pay.

Harrison, who first learned about the plan to strike less than two weeks ago, has worked at McDonald’s for three and a half years, yet makes only $7.75 an hour—just fifty cents more than the wage she started at. She says that pooling her money with her boyfriend’s is the only way to make ends meet, and often that’s not even enough. “Sometimes we have to choose between paying the phone bill and buying groceries. We shouldn’t have to do that.”

Harrison had never participated in a strike before Wednesday, and said that it was knowing there was so much community support behind the strikers that helped her make the decision to walk out. Organizers have committed to helping workers get their jobs back in case of retaliation.

With the fast food industry growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy, improving working conditions and raising wages for these workers is even more urgent, Granich says. “These are the jobs of tomorrow, so we need to work together as a community to make them family-friendly. And that’s not only about wages, but also sustainable hours, a voice on the job, healthcare coverage—all these things really matter.”