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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

Fast Food Workers Standing Up for Themselves – And For Us

by Dennis Raj, South Bay Labor Council

Fifty years after hundreds of thousands of Americans marched on Washington for “jobs and freedom,” they’re still trying to reach that goal.

Now, fast food workers around the country are walking out, bringing their fight for fair wages and benefits to the forefront of political discourse on workers' rights. In the process, the McStrikers are highlighting the difficulties faced by low-wage workers around the country trying to make a living in the new economy. These challenges include a median wage of http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/food-and-beverage-serving-and-related-workers.htm#tab-1)" target="_blank">$18,130 a year, rising cost of living, and few (if any) benefits. To top it off, the fast food industry has alarmingly high rates of wage theft and other schemes that disadvantage workers, as highlighted by the debit card fiasco.

But these workers are not alone -- they have the backing of organized labor -- and their movement is growing.

A protester holds up a sign at a demonstration outside McDonald's in Times Square in New York

During a Monday interview in her Washington, D.C., office, Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry told Salon that SEIU members “see the fast food workers as standing up for all of us. Because the conditions are exactly the same.” Henry was joined by SEIU assistant to the president for organizing Scott Courtney, who said to expect “a big escalation” from fast food workers in “the next week or 10 days.” Two weeks after one-day strikes by thousands of employees in the growing, non-union, low-wage industry, Courtney said, 

I think they’re thinking much bigger, and while the iron’s hot they ought to strike. No pun intended. These workers aren’t just energizing non-unionized low-wage workers in the service industry. By taking the risk to strike, fast food employees are highlighting the plight of workers in the new economy and“electrifying workers elsewhere.

“For the sort of hard-bitten union member who at this moment feels like a strike is suicide,” Mary Kay Henry said, there was “a lot of conversation” there about how the fast food strikers “are reviving hope.”

It made perfect sense to them that things are so bad, government’s not answering, business is not responding – we have to take matters into our own hands and try to change things for themselves.

As the economic realities of the new economy continue to affect thousands of unorganized middle and low-wage workers in America, more and more will walk out, stand up and fight. We’ll be there, to stand in solidarity.

Learn more at LowPayIsNotOk.org.

Posted on 08/20/2013Permalink

More posts by Dennis Raj

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