NEW YORK – Fast-food customers in search of burgers and fries today might run into striking workers instead.
Organizers say thousands of fast-food workers are set to stage walkouts in dozens of cities around the country, part of a push to get chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s to pay workers higher wages.
It’s expected to be the largest nationwide strike by fast-food workers, according to organizers. The biggest effort so far was earlier this summer when about 2,200 of the nation’s millions of fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven cities.
Today’s planned walkouts follow a series of strikes that began last November in New York City, then spread to cities including Chicago, Detroit and Seattle. Workers say they want $15 an hour, which would be about $31,000 a year for full-time employees. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage, which many fast food workers make, of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.
The move comes amid calls from the White House, some members of Congress and economists to hike the federal minimum wage, which was last raised in 2009. But most proposals seek a far more modest increase than the $15 an hour that workers are asking for. President Obama wants to boost it to $9.
The push has brought considerable media attention to a staple of the fast-food industry – the so-called “McJobs” that are known for their low pay and limited prospects. But the workers taking part in the strikes still represent a tiny fraction of the broader industry. And it’s not clear if the strikes today will shut down any restaurants because organizers made their plans public earlier in a call for workers around the country to participate, which gave managers time to adjust their staffing levels.
More broadly, it’s not clear how many customers are aware of the movement, with turnout for past strikes relatively low in some cities. Laila Jennings, a 29-year-old sales associate at T.J. Maxx, was eating at a McDonald’s in New York City this week and said she hadn’t heard of the movement. Still, she said she thinks workers should be paid more. “They work on their feet all day,” she said, adding that $12 to $15 an hour seemed fair.
Fast-food workers say they can’t live on what they’re paid.
Shaniqua Davis, 20, lives in the Bronx with her boyfriend, who is unemployed, and their 1-year-old daughter. Davis has worked at a McDonald’s a few blocks from her apartment for the past three months, earning $7.25 an hour. Her schedule varies, but she never gets close to 40 hours a week. “Forty? Never. They refuse to let you get to that much hours.”
Her weekly paycheck is $150 or much lower. “One of my paychecks, I only got $71 on there. So I wasn’t able to do much with that. My daughter needs stuff, I need to get stuff for my apartment,” said Davis, who plans to take part in today’s strike.
She pays the rent with public assistance but struggles to pay for food, diapers, subway and taxi fares, cable TV and other expenses with her paycheck.
“It’s really hard,” she said. “If I didn’t have public assistance to help me out, I think I would have been out on the street already with the money I make at McDonald’s.”
McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say they don’t make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants.
For the restaurants it does own, McDonald’s said in a statement that pay starts at minimum wage, but the range goes higher, depending on the employee’s position and experience level. It said that raising entry-level wages would mean higher overall costs, which could result in higher prices on menus.