U.S. fast-food strikes

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The U.S. fast-food strikes, a series of rotating protest-strikes by fast-food workers which began in November 2012 in New York City, USA, became national in scope in summer 2013, with strikes in eight cities including Chicago, Detroit, and Washington DC as well as New York, on 29 July;[1] and in about 60 cities, including Tampa and Raleigh in the Southeastern part of the country, and Los angeles and San Fransisco in the Southwest, in addition to New York, Detroit, and other Northern cities, on 29 August.[2] Unlike the older style of industrial strike, which involved a lengthy cessation of work by employees and an attempt to shut down the plant, these are brief demonstrations in front of or inside the place of work (restaurant), with employees from various restaurants in a city typically taking part in the demonstrations at each others' places of employment. Jobs in the service sector, such as the restaurant industry, have proven difficult to organize by conventional trade union and strike methods in the past.

The workers in the present round of strikes are demanding wage increases and the opportunity to form unions without harassment. Fast food workers in the US generally work at or near the minimum legal wage, and many complain they can not get their employers to give them enough hours of work to enable them to earn enough to meet basic living expenses.

According to Karen McVeigh of The Guardian, their situation has deteriorated compared to half a century ago:
Every day, she [Veronica Clark] puts on the shirt McDonald's provides her with and a pair of work pants of her own and goes to work serving burgers for $7.40 an hour. Clark, 47, is paid less per hour in real terms than the lowest paid US workers were half a century ago, when, on 28 August 1963, hundreds of thousands of citizens flooded into Washington for the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom for black Americans.

One of the marchers' demands was a minimum wage raise from $1.25 to $2, reflecting their belief that the wage floor did not enable hardworking men and women to live in dignity. In today's dollars, that would represent a raise from $8.37 to $13.39, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute this week, substantially [more] than the minimum wage of $7.25 today.

Clark works between 36 and 40 hours a week to give her daughters, Crystal, 14, and Veronique, 15, and their brother, André, 16, a decent roof over their heads. But she takes home around $800-$1,000 a month, wages so low the government subsidises her earnings with food stamps.[3]

Women make up two-thirds of workers in the fast-food industry in the US. A quarter of US fast-food workers have dependent children.[4]

The median wage for front-line fast-food workers in the US is $8.94 an hour, according to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for workers. A typical US fast-food worker earns around $11,200 a year, according to Fast Food Forward, a group which has organized some of the strikes.[5]

Forty percent of fast food workers in the US are older than 25.[6] Robert Hiltonsmith of the liberal think tank Demos, says that seventy percent of the fast-food workers are aged 20 or over, and of that 70 percent, about a third have college degrees.[7]

Fast-food strike-demonstrations also occurred in April 2013 in several cities.[8]

Organizers report that in the August 29th strike, restaurants were closed in several cities, including Raleigh, Seattle, New York City and Milwaukee.[9]

Traditional labor unions, and church groups, have been supporting the strikes. The unions include the Service Employees International Union, which is one of the largest in the country, representing more than 2 million workers in industries such as health care and janitors. The Union has given training and financial support to the strike's organizers in several regions, and its leader, Mary Kay Henry, addressed a fast-food workers' rally in downtown Detroit on 29 August 2013.[10] The Union's super Political Action Committee (PAC) spent $13.2 million during the 2012 election.[11]

President Barack Obama has been calling for an increase in the national minimum wage to $9 an hour, but top Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida have been adamant in opposition. In March 2013, every Republican in the House voted against an amendment offered by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif) to increase the wage minimum.[12]

Democratic member of Congress Keith Ellison was one of several who joined workers' demonstrations in the August strike. At a gathering of about 200 workers at Church’s Chicken, in Detroit, he said he had heard several stories from the workers about their financial struggles. He said he was inspired to get to work on raising the national minimum wage.

“It may not be the most promising environment in Congress,” Ellison said, “But we need to fight anyway. I’m going to bring back a renewed sense of urgency to raising the minimum wage, to protect the Affordable Care Act and make sure that when we look at trade bills … we need to ask, ‘How is this going to affect low-wage workers, manufacturing workers,’”.[13]

The food-service industry's share of the total number of jobs in the country has been rising rapidly in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 8.9 percent of all jobs in the US are now in food service (a category that covers traditional as well as fast-food restaurants). That share is 25 percent higher than it was in 1990. Over the same period, retail's share has fallen about 7 percent, so that retail now comprises 6.4 percent of total employment. Manufacturing employment has plummeted: its share of the total is down 45 percent since 1990 and now stands at 6.6 percent. This is bad news for workers because manufacturing remains much better paid: its median hourly wage is $14.87.[14]

McDonalds is the largest fast food chain in the US, followed by Yum! Brands and Wendy's.[15] Mr Donald Thompson, the Chief Executive Officer of McDonalds Corporation, received in 2012 a salary of $US 9.88 million, and exercised stock options of 2.21 million.[16] When the national minimum wage was raised in 2009 from $6.55 to $7.25, McDonalds' margins and same-store sales were not affected, and it did not raise its menu prices. McDonalds is currently testing a mobile payment app that will allow customers to order food and later pick it up at a drive-through window. At present more than ten percent of Starbucks and Chipotle Mexican Grill orders are being placed through a similar app. An attraction of such apps to the companies is that they reduce labor costs. They are also expected to boost sales.[17]

In the Wall Street Journal of 29 August 2013, the conservative Employment Policies Institute ran a full-page ad depicting a robot making pancakes, with a statement that raising wages would result in "fewer entry-level jobs and more automated alternatives." "You can either raise prices and lose customers, or (automate) those jobs," says the Institute's research director, Michael Saltsman.[18]

Regarding the strikes, Casillas Ofelia, a spokeswoman for McDonalds restaurants, has said in an email. “We respect our employees’ rights to voice their opinions. Employees who participate in these activities and return to work are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts as usual."[19] Bryson Thornton, a spokesman for Burger King, has said that “more than 99 percent of all Burger King restaurants in the United States are independently owned and operated by third-party franchisees. “As a corporation, we respect the rights of all workers,” he said. “However, Burger King Corp. does not make hiring, firing or other employment-related decisions for our franchisees.”[20] Ninety percent of McDonalds restaurants in the US are operated by franchisees.

In Brooklyn, N.Y. during the 29 November 2012 strike, a Wendy's fired one of the strikers in its restaurant; however, the worker was reinstated after the intervention of a community delegation that included New York Councilmember Jumaane Williams.[21]

Twenty-three year old Rynetta Bennett, a Wendy's employee attending a demonstration in New York City on August 29, stated that many of her co-workers wanted to attend also, but decided there was too great a risk of reprisals from the company. "A lot are scared," she said.[22]

According to Senate lobbying disclosures, the National Restaurant Association, which represents the owners and has been speaking against the strike, spent more than $1 million on lobbying the federal government in the first half of 2013.[23]


What's disgusting? Union busting! What's outrageous? Poverty wages![24]

We can't survive on $7.25.[25]


  1. Karen Mc Veigh, "Fast-food workers continue fight against low wages" (see #Sources for details).
  2. Karen McVeigh, "US fast-food workers stage nationwide strike in protest at low wages".
  3. "Fast-food workers continue fight agains low wages."
  4. McVeigh, "Fast-food workers continue fight aginst low wages"
  5. These hourly and yearly figures both reported by McVeigh, "US fast-food workeres stage nationwide strike."
  6. Derek Thompson, "Why the Fast-Food Worker Strikes Are Doomed".
  7. Atossa Abrahamian
  8. Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, "Fast Food Workers Strike In 60 Cities, Marking Largest Protest Yet In Year-Long Campaign."
  9. Tarini Parti, "Fast food strike takes over 60 cities".
  10. Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, Fast-food strikes in US cities nationwide over pay" Friday, August 30, 2013. Also Ashley Woods on Ms. Henry's baieng at the rally.
  11. Tarini Parti.
  12. Tarini Parti.
  13. Tarini Parti.
  14. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The trends since 1990 are from Thompson.
  15. Shweta Dubey, "Can These Fast Food Stocks Afford Raised Hourly Wage?"
  16. Yahoo Finance.
  17. This paragraph and the information on the impact (or non-impact) of the 2009 wage raise are from Shweta Dubey, "Can These Fast Food Stocks Afford Raised Hourly Wage?"
  18. Abrahamian
  19. Tarini Parti.
  20. Tarini Parti
  21. Teresa Gutierrez, "Fast food workers fight back"
  22. Hamilton Nolan, "At the New York City Fast Food Strike."
  23. Tarini Parti.
  24. Hamilton Nowlan, "At the New York City Fast Food Strike."
  25. Teresa Gutierrez, "Fast food workers strike back."


Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, "Fast Food Workers Strike In 60 Cities, Marking Largest Protest Yet In Year-Long Campaign", Reuters via the Huffington Post. Posted: 08/29/2013 5:51 pm EDT

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economic News Release, Table 1, "National employment and wage data from the Occupational Employment Statistics survey by occupation," data from May 2012. Report dated May 2013.

Shweta Dubey, "Can These Fast Food Stocks Afford Raised Hourly Wage?" Seekingalpha.com/Fusion Research, Sep 20 2013, 16:56

Adam Gabbatt, "US fast food workers walk out in organised strike against low wages", The Guardian, Monday 29 July 2013 17.00 BST

Teresa Gutierrez, "Fast food workers fight back: We can’t survive on $7.25", Workers World, December 5, 2012

Karen McVeigh, "Fast-food workers continue fight against low wages", The Guardian, Thursday, Aug 29, 2013, 13.34 BST.

Karen McVeigh, "US fast-food workers stage nationwide strike in protest at low wages", The Guadian, Thursday, Aug 29, 2013, 18.54 BST.

Hamilton Nolan, "At the New York City Fast Food Strike" Gawker, 8/29/13 2:59pm.

Tarini Parti, "Fast food strike takes over 60 cities," Politico, 8/29/13 11:29 AM EDT.

Derek Thompson, "Why the Fast-Food Worker Strikes Are Doomed" The Atlantic, Aug 29 2013, 12:09 PM ET.

Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, "Fast-food strikes in US cities nationwide over pay", Friday, August 30, 2013

Ashley Woods, "Striking Fast Food Workers Take Their Message To Downtown Detroit" in "Fast Food Worker Strikes Expand to South, West Coast", Huffington Post, 29 Aug 2013.