Fast-food workers and labor organizers marched and chanted in cities across the country Thursday – including a small protest in Buffalo – calling for higher, “living wages.”
A group of about a dozen protested near Main and Utica streets – between a McDonald’s and a Burger King restaurant – carrying signs calling for a raise of the minimum wage.
The protesters were from the Buffalo International Action Center, which calls itself “anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist.”
The group entered the Burger King restaurant chanting: “Fast-food workers, raise their pay, or we’ll keep yelling and won’t go away.” They departed when the manager threatened to call the police.
Buffalo IAC organizer Ellie Dorritie, a retired postal worker, said, “The corporations make billions of dollars. If they doubled the workers’ pay, they’d still make billions.”
Walkouts were planned in 100 cities, with rallies set for another 100 cities.
Dorritie said the group is hoping the protest will catch on, and if it doesn’t, “Just putting a footprint down is a great beginning.”
“What we really wanted to do is get out a beginning of a center of gravity for fast-food workers and all low-wage workers to be able to pull together,” she said. “That’s the best way to start. This is the day for it.”
The coordinated actions marked the largest showing yet in a push that began a year ago. At a time when there’s growing national and international attention on economic disparities, labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats are hoping to build public support to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25, or about $15,000 a year for full-time work.
Protesters are calling for pay of $15 an hour, but the figure is seen more as a rallying point than a near-term possibility.
New York State is already raising the minimum wage, from $7.25 to $8 in January 2014; then $8.75 in January 2015; and finally $9 an hour in January 2016. That’s a far cry from $15 per hour, but Dorritie said that’s still achievable. “If we fight for it, yes, it is realistic, because it’s necessary, it’s possible, and it’s good,” she said. “It’s right that people should be able to live with some dignity.”
Based in New York City and founded in 1992 to oppose the first Iraq War, IAC is a grass-roots social justice activist organization that campaigns against U.S. wars overseas, racism and “economic exploitation of workers here at home,” according to its website.
IAC is not as well known locally as organizations such as the Coalition for Economic Justice, which also advocates for better wages and other labor issues.
CEJ is not involved in the Buffalo protest, however, as its staff traveled to New York City for demonstrations there Thursday.
The push for higher pay in the fast-food industry faces an uphill battle. The industry competes aggressively on value offerings, and companies have warned that they would need to raise prices if wages were hiked.
Most fast-food locations are also owned and operated by franchisees, which lets companies such as McDonald’s Corp., Burger King Worldwide Inc. and Yum Brands Inc. say that they don’t control worker pay.
However, labor advocates have pointed out that companies control many other aspects of restaurant operations through their franchise agreements, including menus, suppliers and equipment.
The National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, said that most of those protesting were union workers and that “relatively few” workers have participated in past actions. It called the demonstrations a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”
McDonald’s said in a statement that it’s “committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed.” The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said it offers employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits.
In the meantime, the protests are getting some high-powered support from the White House and Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised a vote on the wage hike by the end of the year. But the measure is not expected to gain traction in the House, where Republican leaders oppose it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.