Strike supporters say fast food’s poverty wages bad for workers, communities

Demonstrators in Minneapolis show their support for striking fast-food workers across the U.S.

Demonstrators in Minneapolis show their support for striking fast-food workers across the U.S.

As fast-food workers in an estimated 100 U.S. cities walked off the job today to protest the industry’s poverty-level wages, union members and faith leaders in Minnesota showed their solidarity – and their support for raising the state’s minimum wage – outside a block of fast-food restaurants in Northeast Minneapolis.

The demonstration took place over the lunch hour outside McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell restaurants on Stinson Boulevard. Solidarity demonstrations also took place today in St. Paul and Cambridge, 45 miles north of the Twin Cities.

Isaiah Campbell (L) and Anytrea Baker talk about the effects of poverty wages on workers, families and communities.

Isaiah Campbell (L) and Anytrea Baker talk about the effects of poverty wages on workers, families and communities.

Isaiah Campbell, a member of Local 284 of the Service Employees International Union, joined the Minneapolis demonstration, he said, because as a former fast-food worker, he knows “what it’s like to have to work 80 hours per week just to pay my bills.”

“McDonald’s makes billions in profits each year,” Campbell said. “Their employees have a significant hand in making that happen. Instead of helping them sign up for government subsidies, they should pay them a decent wage.”

The median wage among front-line workers in the fast-food industry is $8.69, according to a study released in October by researchers from two universities. The median number of hours worked per week is 30, and only 13 percent of front-line workers receive health benefits through their employers.

The report, “Fast Food, Poverty Wages,” also debunked common stereotypes of fast-food workers. Most, in fact, are adults for whom “fast-food wages are an essential component of family income.”

Wages that keep workers in poverty “not only hurt the employee, they hurt the community as a whole,” Rev. Grant Stevensen of Spirit of the Truth Church in St. Paul said. He noted that more than half of front-line workers in the industry rely on public assistance to support themselves or members of their families, costing taxpayers $7 billion per year.

“When you ask someone to work for you, you’re asking for a sacred thing. You are asking for their life,” Stevensen said. “When you ask someone for their life, they should be able to live.”

Fast-food strikers’ demands include starting wages of $15 per hour and the freedom to organize for a voice on the job without the threat of retaliation from their employers.

Campbell remembered approaching management at one of his fast-food jobs in an effort to improve working conditions, and the reaction he drew “was kind of harsh.”

“They raised my responsibilities for a couple days, but I didn’t see a wage raise,” he said.

The fast-food strikes come a week after activists in Minnesota staged a week of action calling out poverty-wage employers like Walmart and Target – and calling for an increase in the state’s minimum wage. Activists outside McDonald’s today cited the fast-food strikes as more evidence momentum is on their side.

“I am here to support any and everybody who works for minimum wage,” said Anytrea Baker, a member of SEIU Local 284. “We need to raise it.”

Striking fast-food workers also received a showing of support from 53 members of Congress, including Minnesota DFL Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison. They signed onto a letter urging McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson to heed the call to end poverty wages in his restaurants.

“Paying fair wages and putting more spending money in the hands of consumers will strengthen our economy and put our nation on the path to greater prosperity for all,” the letter says, urging Thompson to work with striking workers to “find solutions to this moral and economic issue.”

[Click here to tell your legislator you support raising Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.]

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