Fast food workers in over 50 cities across the nation are striking on Thursday in what organizers are touting as the largest ever strike to hit the industry.
The workers are demanding $15 an hour and the right to unionize, continuing the calls and momentum of a series of strikes that first started in November of 2012.
Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but, as the Economic Policy Institute has pointed out, "if the minimum wage had kept up with productivity growth [since 1968], it would now be $18.67 per hour."
In addition to fast food workers, workers at major retail chains including Macy’s, Sears, Victoria’s Secret and Walgreens are expected to take part in the strike as well.
“When I saw the strikes on TV earlier this summer in New York and Chicago, I said to my co-workers, 'We need to bring this to Durham,'” Willieta Dukes, a 39-year-old Burger King worker in North Carolina, said in a statement. “And now we’ve brought the fight for $15 and a union not just to Durham, but to every corner of the country. The more of us who join together, the more powerful we are.”
Dukes, who makes $7.85 an hour, decided to go on strike for the first time in her life because she can't afford not to. She writes in an op-ed:
We are walking off our jobs because we don't know how we are going to survive on these jobs. We're on strike because we can't afford not to strike.
Burger King says they can't pay employees like me higher wages because it would force them out of business. Yet last year it made $117m in profits and its CEO took home $6.47m. It would take me 634 years to earn that much.
I've worked in fast-food for 15 years, and I can't even afford my own rent payments. We just want fairness and to be able to provide for our families. No one who works every day should be forced to be homeless.
Striking McDonald's worker Nick Williams, whose take-home pay is less than $800 a month, was outraged when he found out McDonald's made $5.5 billion in profits last year, telling Business Insider, "I felt completely betrayed because billions of dollars are extra and the people who work at McDonald's aren't making enough to live."
Highlighting the inequality further, Catherine Ruetschlin and Amy Traub of the public policy organization Demos write on Thursday:
Right now, fast food companies keep employees at poverty-level wages while reaping billions of dollars in profits for their shareholders every year. Across the economy this practice drives increasing inequality, slow growth, and declining living standards. It is holding back our economic recovery and contributing to our high poverty rates and rates of working poor. Americans deserve better. The fast food workers’ movement shows that there is a broad demand for change—one that is only getting stronger.
Dearius Merritt, a striking Church’s Chicken assistant manager in Memphis, Tenn., also sees this as a growing movement with implications for years to come.
“It’s bigger than me and it’s bigger than the workers that are standing up. It’s not just going to help my generation, it’s going to help the next generation that’s going to come, and the generation after that,” said Merritt.
Twitters users have been showing actions from cities across the country and offering support for the call for a living wage: