Breaking Down This Week's Fast Food Strikes in St. Louis and Detroit

A new movement of fast food workers demanding better wages and the right to unionize spread to two Midwestern cities this week, St. Louis and Detroit, bringing the total number of such actions to four in five weeks. Similar strikes occurred last month in New York and Chicago. As we did during the strike in New York, we’ve put together a breakdown of what’s happening in St. Louis and Detroit:


Who is striking this week?

According to MSNBC, organizers estimate up to 400 fast food workers from at least 60 different restaurants in Detroit walked off the job today, possibly a record-high for this type of action. Josh Eidelson reports for The Nation that at least four restaurants were forced shut down due to strikes, including two McDonald’s, a Long John’s Silver and a Popeye’s. At one McDonald’s location, management reportedly brought in additional workers to replace the striking employees, only to have them join the action.

More than 100 St. Louis fast food workers walked off the job Wednesday and Thursday, reported MSNBC’ Ned Resnikoff, including employees of McDonald’s, Jimmy John’s, Wendy’s and Domino’s.

Both actions were organized by coalitions of local and national labor groups. St. Louis labor groups called the campaign “STL Can’t Survive on $7.35.” Detroit’s strikers went with “D15.”

What are they asking for?

Like strikers in New York and Chicago last month, fast food workers in St. Louis and Detroit are demanding a wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without threat of retaliation. "I make $7.40 an hour, the same as when I started working in the fast food industry three years ago,” Detroit Burger King employee Claudette Wilson told The Detroit News. “We're the fastest-growing job market in the country with the lowest pay."

Additionally, strikers spoke to media about various problems with working conditions at their restaurants. “We want respect, and we want fifteen and a union, and that’s not too much to ask for,” St. Louis McDonald’s employee Angela Harrison told The Nation. “We want simple things, like the first-aid kit to be fully stocked all the time.”

What does this all mean?

Several writers and labor advocates have spoken about how recent fast food strikes speak to America’s growing service industry, particularly fast food, and a crossroads in the labor movement.

“These are the fast growing jobs, but they’re also the lowest paying,” Rev. Martin Rafanan, the St. Louis action’s campaign director, told Josh Eidelson, writing for Salon. “So this is where we have to pay attention.”

The strikes, made up of non-union workers, also represent a growing strategy used by labor groups, as Eidelson explains:

Rather than waiting until they’ve built support from a majority of a store’s or company’s workers, they stage actions by a minority of the workforce designed to inspire their co-workers. Rather than publicly identifying the campaign and its organizers with a single international union, these union-funded efforts turn to allied community groups to spearhead organizing. Rather than training all their resources on a single company, they organize against all of the industry’s players at once. And—faced with legal and economic assaults that have weakened the strike weapon—these campaigns mount one-day work stoppages that are carefully tailored to maximize attention and minimize, but not eliminate, the risk that workers will lose their jobs.

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