Fast Food Strikes Return as Wage Debate Looms

Obama speaks up in favor of minimum wage hike
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2013 7:53 AM CST
Fast Food Strikes Return as Wage Debate Looms
Protesting fast food workers demonstrate outside a McDonald's restaurant on New York's Fifth Avenue, in New York, Aug. 29, 2013.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Fast food workers in 100 cities will walk off the job today, and protesters will show up in 100 more to call for drastically higher wages for the nation's lowest-paid workers. The movement started with a small strike in New York City last year, and has ballooned since, with an August edition hitting 60 cities—though the AP notes that in many of those places only a few people actually showed up. But this time the strikes come as the living wage issue is heating up. "I think there's growing recognition that a nerve has been touched," the head of the Service Employees International Union tells the New York Times. "This isn't going to blow over." Here's how that debate is shaking out:

  • Fifty-three Democratic congressman sent a letter to executives at McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Domino's, and YUM! Brands yesterday calling on them to increase wages, Bloomberg reports.
  • President Obama himself jumped into the fray in a speech yesterday, saying that fast food employees "work their tails off and are still living barely above poverty."
  • He also tackled the idea that this was a racial issue, in some of his first comments on race since the Trayvon Martin shooting, Politico observes. "The opportunity gap in America is now as much about class as it is about race," he said. "The gap in test scored between poor kids and wealthy kids is now nearly twice what it is between white kids and black kids."
  • Obama said he'd support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. But protesters and the labor organizations backing them are pushing for a more dramatic $15 an hour. Some experts worry that number would have drastic effects on prices and hiring. "It might lead to the substitution of automation for workers," says one professor who's been a vocal advocate for wage bumps. He estimates that the price of a $3 hamburger would jump to $3.50 or $3.60.
  • The industry is dismissing the movement. The National Restaurant Association calls it a "coordinated PR campaign engineered by national labor groups," while McDonald's contends that the demonstrations were not strikes, but staged protests from outside groups, CNN reports.
  • But some workers undoubtedly are striking. "I'm tired of working for $7.25," one Milwaukee mother and Popeye's employee tells The Nation. "We've been busting our butts and we finally want a raise," agreed a Charleston Bojangles' worker. "I'm glad to be one of the people going on strike, because this is ridiculous."
(Read more fast food stories.)

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