What You Need to Know About Today’s Fast Food Strikes

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.


Who is striking? More than 400 fast food employees in New York City walked off the job today. Workers from 60 to 70 restaurants, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Papa John’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, are expected to participate.

A coalition of community, civil rights, and labor groups called Fast Food Forward sponsored the strike. The same campaign led a high-profile action in November where 200 low-wage workers walked out on their food service jobs.

What are they asking for? Low-wage workers are demanding a pay increase to $15 an hour, more than double the minimum wage of $7.25. They’re also asking for the right to unionize without threat of punishment.

According to Fast Food Forward, the average industry worker in New York makes an annual salary of $11,000, a tiny portion of what’s needed to meet the city’s cost of living. While lawmakers have approved a gradual minimum wage increase to $9 by 2015, research suggests that’s not even close to enough. As Sarah Jaffe notes for The Atlantic, the Women’s Center for Education and Advancement revealed the self-sufficiency standard “for a single adult living in the Bronx (the cheapest borough) was $12.56 an hour; for an adult with one child, that number jumps to $23.39 an hour.”

Why now? Several reasons. Organizers cite a growing service industry and an upward shift in fast food workers’ age as factors necessitating higher wages and protections.

Also, the movement’s sponsors say last November’s strike gave workers confidence to walk out on the job. Today’s strike, reportedly the biggest fast food strike in history, nearly doubled in number of participants from last year’s action.

“What happened in November was a very big thing in terms of seeing whether workers were ready and able to go out and strike and take risks in a way that has not happened in the fast-food industry before,” Jonathon Westin, who heads the sponsoring organization Communities for Change, told The New York Times.

In the context of labor history, Salon’s Josh Eidelson notes that Fast Food Forward represents a shift in organizing tactics. To combat restrictive labor laws, unions are turning something called “comprehensive campaigns,” which utilize a range of tactics beyond labor laws to fight for workers’ rights. “The Fast Food Forward campaign reflects some of the ways unions are taking on this challenge: finding alternative leverage points against corporations, and reimagining the strike,” writes Eidelson.

Finally, today marks the 45th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther Kin Jr. He was assassinated in Memphis, where he traveled to support sanitation workers on strike.

Essential Reading

Fast-Food Workers Plan Second Strike for More Pay” by Steven Greenhouse, the New York Times

Fast Food Workers Plan Surprise Strike” by Josh Eidelson, Salon

The McJobs Strike Back: Will Fast-Food Workers Ever Get a Living Wage?” by Sarah Jaffe, The Atlantic

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