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World's Fast Food Workers Unite in Global Day of Protest

In more than 80 cities in dozens of countries on six continents, low-wage restaurant workers rally with common message: 'We deserve better treatment'

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Fast food workers are striking and protesting in 80 cities on six continents on Thursday to demand a living wage and the right to organize. Fast food workers in 80 cities, both in the U.S. and around the globe, are demonstrating together on Thursday with demands for increased wages and better treatment from restaurants—dominated by international chains like McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, and others—that make billions in profit annually on the back of their low-paid labor force.

From New Zealand and Austrailia to Asia, from Europe to Africa, and in both hemispheres of the Americas, the international day of protests and strikes is being chronicled on Twitter under the hashtag #fastfoddglobal:

As the New York Times reports:

Over the last decade as American labor unions have declined in membership and power, they have increasingly turned to unions in Europe and Asia to help pressure companies overseas to stop battling organizing drives at their United States units. And now the fast food movement, underwritten by the Service Employees International Union, is embracing a similar strategy as it struggles to gain influence with the fast food giants.

“It’s a global economy, so they’re saying, ‘Why not go overseas to make it into a global fight?’ ” said Lowell Turner, a professor of international labor relations at Cornell University. “They’re trying to create a global protest movement.”

USA Today reports from New York City:

Dozens of workers stood outside a McDonald's nearby Penn Station demanding higher wages and the right to form a union. Protesters partially blocked some entrances to the restaurant where they stalled, but did not halt, sales.

Naquasia LeGrand, 22, of Brooklyn, says this was her sixth strike since 2012. She has worked as a cashier at Kentucky Fried Chicken for three years in Park Slope, an affluent neighborhood in Brooklyn. She makes $8 an hour and pays $1,300 a month for her apartment. She says fast food workers all over are struggling to survive. "We live in New York City--a multi-billion dollar city," she said. "These corporations are taking everything from us. They are making all this money. It's only right that we (workers) come together."

Dijon Thornton, 22, a cashier, has worked at a Wendy's in Harlem for the last year and a half. On Thursday morning, he walked out of work as the store was readying to serve breakfast. For him, the decision was about asking for respect, in the form of better pay. He says that paying him $8 an hour is like "spitting in my face."

The strike's organizer says that the fast-food giants have the money to pay reasonable wages. "At the end of the day, there is more than enough money to pay these workers $15 an hour," says Kendall Fells, the 34-year-old organizer of Fast Food Forward, who marched with protesters in New York on Thursday. Two-thirds of the the workers are women -- and most of them have children, he says. "They're just trying to support their families and makes ends meet."

Writing for CNN International, Ron Oswald, the general secretary of Geneva-based  International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) and a lead organizer for the international day of protest, explains why fast food workers in all countries need to be paid more. He writes:

Fast food is no longer where students and young people get a first job and move on. Today's fast food employee is older and better educated than earlier generations, often has family responsibilities, and is essentially stuck in the system with little hope of relief from poverty wages and limited or no benefits.

Inside the outlets there are few chances for advancement. According to the U.S. National Employment Law Project, managerial, professional and technical occupations make up nearly a third of all U.S. jobs, but only 2.2% of fast food employment.

Employers benefit from the generous reserves of easily trainable labor on offer, while by contrast higher value employment is being pared back in large parts of the world.

Employing workers at less than full-time hours often allows employers to provide no benefits. And the franchise system gives corporate headquarters plausible deniability for conditions in the restaurants which wear their brands.

The handful of global chains which dominate the industry are hugely profitable -- executive compensation and share buybacks have followed the same swollen rising curve as in other sectors of the economy. At a time of austerity, public subsidies to fast food workers have grown with the expansion of the chains.

From industry's perspective, however, there's no need for change.

Scott DeFife, an executive vice president for the National Restaurant Association—which some call the "other NRA" that represents many of the largest corporations in the fast food industry—dismissed Thursday’s protests when he told the Times: “These are made-for-TV media moments — that’s pretty much it."

But for workers struggling to feed their families and meet basic needs, the sentiment was strikingly and consistently different.

Delores Leonard of Bronzeville, Illinois told the Chicago Tribune on Thursday that she joined the day's demonstration in Chicago because her hourly wage of $8.25 at McDonald's doesn’t cover even half of her rent and utility bills.

"[The] people that prepare the food are the heart and soul of the services," said the mother of two daughters who is forced to rely on government assistance, food stamps and Medicaid, to make ends meet. "It's absurd for $8.25. It's just not enough, and if [other people, including the owners] were in our shoes, they would understand."

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