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Why I’m Going on Strike Against McDonald’s Today

McDonald’s tried to get rid of Jason Hughes because of his organizing, but he’s still fighting with thousands of others on this Fast Food National Day of Action.
 
 
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Jason Hughes organizing fast food workers.

 

Raised by a single mother, Jason Hughes knew the price of working at McDonald’s. His mother worked there and struggled to support the family.

Nearly two year ago, Hughes took a job at the same McDonald's in Fremont, Calif. where his mother worked in order to move out and begin trying to support himself.

“I grew up in poverty wages and now I see what it’s like trying to support myself working there. It’s difficult,” Hughes, 19, said.

Hughes makes $8.50 an hour, 50 cents more than the minimum wage in Calif., working five- to six-hour shifts, four days a week. Though he would love to work another day, he said, McDonald's squeezes workers’ hours. 

 “We’re understaffed,” he said. “There’s only three people in the kitchen during the lunch rush.”

As a result, Hughes and his co-workers have to work faster on the grill, frequently burning themselves. The managers, who don’t acknowledge him otherwise, demand that workers move quickly.

“When you work there, you don’t feel a lot of respect,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons Hughes will be taking part in today’s Fast Food National Day of Action, in which fast-food workers are striking in 100 cities for better working conditions.

“I hope to eventually see a $15 minimum wage. I feel like we deserve that,” Hughes said. “We work hard. We work real jobs.” 

Fast-food workers currently make a median wage of $8.25 an hour. More than half of these workers need public assistance. Meanwhile, McDonald's saw $1.5 billion in profits this year, while CEO Don Thompson was given a pay package of nearly $14 million. A new report has also found that fast-food CEOs have exploited a tax loophole to obtain $183 million. 

Hughes was spurred to action when his mother, who worked at McDonald’s for more than 20 years, was fired six months ago. Hughes’ mother was sick and had a doctor’s note explaining her absence, but McDonald’s fired her, claiming she had missed too many days and didn’t call in.

Hughes said he believes his mother was terminated because McDonald’s likes to let older people go in order to hire younger people.

“They hire teenagers to feel less threatened,” he said.

After his mother’s termination, Hughes began organizing and took part in the national fast-food strikes this past August, shutting down his store.

“All the struggling moms out there, that’s a big reason I’m doing this,” he said. “I see so many moms who struggle with three kids, two kids. And I’ve been in that situation. I know how that feels. It sucks.”

About a week after striking in August, Hughes was wrongfully terminated for drinking an iced coffee during his closing shift, from midnight to 2am. Hughes said there had been an apparent change of policy at his store, which deemed certain menu items off limits to employees. Hughes said the policy wasn’t communicated clearly, and several of his coworkers were suspended for a day. But he was fired on the spot. Hughes quickly put together a petition, signed by his coworkers, to demand his reinstatement within a week before he would pursue further action. 

“The next day, petition in hand, I gave it to the manager who had fired my mom and got that deer-in-headlights look,” he said. “It was the greatest feeling in life.”

Within a week and a half, Hughes was hired back at his store, and was given 30 hours of backpay. After this, however, Hughes said many of his co-workers left and found new jobs. He struggles organizing the new batch of workers, who, he said, are mostly older women trying to support their families and teenagers.

“They seem like they are kind of intimidated, but they are open to suggestions,” he said.

The Fast Food National Day of Action is just a part of his ongoing work. Hughes said that he is going to continue to fight for economic justice.

“I hate going to work everyday. I hate it. I didn’t have to fight for my job. I could have quit; I could have found another job. But I do it because I believe in the Fight for 15. I believe in standing up for the truth, the hard work we put in, and the burns on our arms,” he said. “To be understaffed and be paid these wages, it infuriates me.”

To support fast-food workers, find a local rally here.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.