A Death Knell for the McJob?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/a katz
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Dawn Moore was on “strike” Thursday. It was more a protest than a conventional attempt to stop all work at her job site, but it still packed a punch. She took a day off from her work at a McDonald’s in Chicago to join more than 150 protestors who marched from one fast-food or retail store to another in both the downtown “Loop” and several outlying neighborhoods. Chanting “we are the 99%” and carrying a giant Grinch puppet, they were there to demand that employers in those low-wage businesses pay employees $15 an hour and respect their right to organize a union freely.
“I think we all deserve a fair living wage,” says Moore, 41, a 7.5-year veteran McDonald’s worker. A divorced mother of two, she struggles to pay off $9,000 in student loans she incurred during less than a year at a “scam” college and has to move back and forth between apartments of a friend and a sister.
“Eight dollars and sixty-five cents is unacceptable,” she said, standing in the morning cold near a McDonald’s in an office tower. “Not only are we the backbones of these companies, we bring the corporations the money, but out of all the people at the corporation and franchises, we get paid the least. They’d rather give more money to the people who have a lot than to the little people who run their stores.”
Similar protests marked the rough one-year anniversary of a campaign that kicked off last fall in New York, then Chicago, before spreading across the country. In some 100 cities throughout the country, marchers from unions, community groups and other sympathetic organizations turned out to demonstrate on behalf of the workers—and in most locations, fast-food workers joined in, usually a minority of leaders from most workplaces, many workers did risk illegal retaliation by their bosses.
One of the cities that saw fast food demonstrations for the first time was Baltimore. Local labor activists staged modest protests at two separate McDonald’s franchises, though there were no instances of McDonalds’ employees actually walking off the job.
John Fariani, a student at Johns Hopkins University and a local spokesperson for the Low Pay Is Not OK campaign—the name under which the one-day strike was organized—said the demonstrators at a McDonald’s near the city's famed Fort McHenry national park had been organized through on-line promotions and local networks of labor activists. Of the dozen protestors at that site, most came from a local pro-labor group called Workers Assembly, while a smattering of other picketers represented the hospital workers union 1199SEIU or other organizations.
“Too many people view these [fast food] jobs as just for kids. That's just not true anymore. ...I'm glad to see the picketing for a better wage. Now it looks like it is taking off,” says 1199SEIU member Marjorie Taylor.
The campaign—called Fight for 15 in Chicago and Fast Food Forward in New York, with other names in other citieshas succeeded in provoking a national debate over the growing dominance of low-wage, precarious work in the American economy, much as the Occupy movement led to a greater public focus on the gulf between the increasingly, spectacularly wealthy 1% of households and the stagnating or declining fortunes of the rest of the workforce.
While it has generated support for proposals to increase the minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 to $9 by 2015 (from President Obama) or to $10.10 an hour (from Democrats such as Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller), the $15 goal has set the bar higher. Along with OUR Walmart’s target of $25,000 a year, it is beginning to transform the debate from an arbitrary “minimum” that barely surpasses the poverty level to a “living wage.” Also, Trish Kahle, a leader of workers at a Whole Foods store, notes that, after Occupy’s successful effort to highlight the social problems of growing inequality, the Fight for 15 moved the battle over inequality into the workplace. Workers at her store struck before Thanksgiving, winning a guarantee that Thanksgiving will be a paid holiday next year and that the store will pay time-and-a-half for the day before Thanksgiving.