In several U.S. cities, fast food workers went on strike Friday to demand a $15 minimum hourly wage and the right to unionize, boosting pressure on President-elect Joe Biden to deliver on his campaign promise to push for the wage increase nationally.
Employees of McDonald's, Wendy's and other fast food chains planned to stay away or walk off the job on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.'s 92nd birthday, USA Today reported Wednesday, citing the Fight for $15 and a Union movement, which organized the strike.
"They want to send a message to both the Biden-Harris administration and Congress to prioritize passing $15 an hour (legislation) in the first 100 days,'' said Allynn Umel, organizing director of the movement, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Striking workers—who have been on the frontlines of the raging coronavirus pandemic—and supporters shared updates from the streets on social media:
“If I could speak directly to the CEO of @McDonalds I would tell him: ‘WE are the people who are running your system. You made $100 billion dollars in profit last year— WE helped you bring in every dime. You can afford to pay us at least $15!’” Umar B., McDs worker. #Fightfor15 pic.twitter.com/7Rt3iSSOfs
— Raise Up For $15 (@RaiseUpfor15) January 15, 2021
— Fight for 15 Florida (@FightFor15FL) January 15, 2021
Car caravans and strike lines on the video-calling platform Zoom were planned for cities including Chicago, Charleston, Detroit, Durham, Flint, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Memphis, Oakland, Orlando, Sacramento, St. Louis, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa, according to Business Insider.
BREAKING: Fast food workers across Michigan are on strike today to demand a living wage and union rights.
— Detroit 15 (@Detroit_15) January 15, 2021
Today @McDonalds workers are ON STRIKE in California and across the United States.
Solidarity to McDonalds strikers at Gare de l’Est in Paris — we stand with you!
— Fight for $15 LA (@Fightfor15LA) January 15, 2021
Tennessee McDonald's worker Karesha Manns detailed in an opinion piece for Business Insider on Friday why she joined the strike. She began with King: In a speech to support Black sanitation workers striking in Memphis the day before he was killed, he said, "We've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end."
"We can't make ends meet and provide for our families on anything less. And as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, we're urging the nation's leaders to pass a $15 minimum wage in the first 100 days of the new administration," Manns wrote. She continued:
I make just $10 an hour working at McDonald's in Memphis, and it's nowhere near enough to cover basic necessities every month for me and my baby daughter. I haven't even been able to furnish my apartment, because every cent of every paycheck has to go towards keeping a roof over our heads and putting food on the table. I can't think about buying a couch when I can barely afford an apartment.
That's why I see myself in the Memphis sanitation workers who rallied here alongside Dr. King over half a century ago. I know that our struggles are connected because their fight won't be complete until this country has achieved racial justice and economic justice—and because until our Black communities can thrive, no community can thrive.
The national strike came a day after Biden, who will be sworn in next week, unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and recovery plan that includes raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 dollars an hour—a provision applauded by progressive economists and other raise-the-wage advocates.
BREAKING: Fast food workers and community are holding a strike & protest car caravan in Milwaukee to ensure $15/hr within the first 100 days of the Biden administration. #RaiseTheWage #FightFor15 pic.twitter.com/xlW9IvQFnl
— FightFor15WI (@FightFor15WI) January 15, 2021
Fast-food workers are ON STRIKE TODAY to demand $15/hr #FightFor15
Billon-dollar corporations like @McDonalds *still* refuse to pay a living wage -- since they won't act, Congress must make them.
— Jobs With Justice (@jwjnational) January 15, 2021
"Raising the minimum wage is one of the best economic stimulus policies out there, and it's encouraging to see the incoming Biden administration prioritize it in their stimulus package," Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires and a former managing director of BlackRock, said of Biden's "American Rescue Plan."
"Raising the wage means putting more money into the hands of low-wage workers who will immediately spend it back in their local economies," Pearl said. "With 40% of American workers making less than $15 an hour, lifting the federal minimum wage creates an incredible boost in consumer demand, the backbone of our economy."
We stand with President-elect Biden in calling for Congress to act immediately to #RaiseTheWage to $15/hr. The federal minimum wage hasn't gone up in almost 12 years. #FightFor15 workers who have been striking and demanding more are finally being heard. https://t.co/L2PCpbPPH8
— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) January 14, 2021
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who ran for president twice and sponsored raise-the-wage legislation during the last congressional session, also praised the proposal, saying late Thursday that "President-elect Biden has put forth a very strong first installment of an emergency relief plan that will begin to provide desperately needed assistance to tens of millions of working families facing economic hardship during the pandemic."
"The president-elect's Covid-relief plan includes many initiatives that the American people want and need, including increasing the $600 direct payments to $2,000, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour," said Sanders. "As the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, I look forward to working with the president-elect and my colleagues in Congress to provide bold emergency relief to the American people as soon as possible."
The senator, a longtime congressional ally of the labor rights movement and working-class Americans, also expressed solidarity with the striking workers:
Solidarity Senator! We're proud to stand with you today, and over the years that we've been fighting together for justice and to #RaiseTheWage.
It's time that companies like @McDonalds are held accountable.
United, workers will win!#FightFor15
— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) January 15, 2021
While Biden has repeatedly indicated he supports passing legislation to raise the wages of all workers to $15, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—echoing progressive economists and activists—pointed out last month that he could boost pay for all federal contract workers on his first day in office.
In the absence of federal legislation to increase wages for all workers, state and local governments have taken action. As Common Dreams reported at the end of 2020, 24 states and 50 municipalities across the country are set to raise minimum wages this year, according to National Employment Law Project.
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explained early last year that "if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1968, it would be close to $12 an hour today, more than 65% higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour."
"While this would make a huge difference in the lives of many people earning close to the national minimum wage, it is actually a relatively unambitious target," he wrote, noting that if the minimum wage rose "in step with productivity growth since 1968 it would be over $24 an hour today."