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Fast Food and Retail Strikes Spread to Milwaukee, Fifth City in Recent Weeks
Inspired by Walmart and New York City, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit Fast Food Walkouts, Hundreds of Milwaukee Workers Strike Dozens of Major National Fast Food and Retail Chains
Raise Up MKE’s Action Calls for $15 and the Right to Form a Union Without Interference; Aims to Get Milwaukee Economy Moving Again
MILWAUKEE - May 15 - Hundreds of workers at Milwaukee’s largest fast food and retail chains walked off their jobs today, calling for $15 an hour and the right to form a union free from retaliation. The walkout – hitting major national chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Simply Fashion and Taco Bell – marks the fifth city hit by low-wage worker strikes in as many weeks, a string of strikes that began last fall at Walmarts across the country and continued at fast-food restaurants and retail stores in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit.
“We’re on strike because we’re tired of struggling just to survive,” said Kenneth Mack, a McDonald’s employee. “There is no reason why I should go to work every day and not make enough to take care of myself and my daughter.”
Wednesday’s action comes on the heels of the largest U.S. fast-food worker strike in Detroit, which saw more than 400 workers walk of the job and several stores that had to close, Wednesday and Thursday’s fast-food strikes in St. Louisand an unprecedented combined fast-food and retail worker strike in Chicago. It also follows a nationwide Black Friday strike by Walmart workers and comes just weeks after 400 fast-food workers walked off their jobs in New York City.
Low-wage jobs have accounted for the bulk of new jobs added in the recovery, and retail and fast food are among the fastest-growing sectors.
The Milwaukee strike comes amid growing concern from economists and other experts that the proliferation of low-wage work is hampering the nation’s recovery. In a speech last month,Federal Reserve Board Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin suggested the types of jobs being created are slowing the recovery. “Those jobs will directly affect the fortunes and challenges of households and neighborhoods as well as the course of the recovery,” she said. It also comes as major national companies like McDonald’s and Walmart are facing increasing questions about whether low wages are causing breakdowns in customer service.
“Jobs that pay fifteen dollars an hour can save lives in Milwaukee,” said Javon Walker, an employee at Old Country Buffet. “Too many people – youth especially – turn to crime because they don’t make enough to make ends meet. Good paying jobs will change lives in this city for the better.”
In metro Milwaukee, roughly 100,000 family-sustaining manufacturing jobs have been lostsince the early 1980s, forcing workers to rely on low-paying jobs in fast food and retail. Growth in food preparation jobs in the metro area is projected to be nearly triple the rate of overall employmentand retail is one of the fast growing job sectors in the metro area.
Fast food is a $200 billion a year industry and retail is a $4.7 trillion industry, yet many Milwaukee service workers earn minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, or just above it and are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get healthcare for their children. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single adult in Milwaukee with one child needs to earn nearly $21 an hour to get by – a far cry from the minimum wage.
The Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee’s campaign, Raise Up MKE, seeks to put money back in the pockets of the more than 60,000 men and women who work hard in the Milwaukee-area’s fast food and retail chains but still can’t afford basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent. These workers are coming together to fight for $15 per hour and the right to form a union so they can support their families and put money back into the economy.