Fast food workers in seven U.S. cities are walking off the job this week in what organizers say is the largest strike in the industry’s history.
The wave of protests began Monday in New York City, where workers earning as little as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour — in a town where the average rent is over $3,000 a month — demanded $15 per hour and the right to organize.
The average yearly salary of fast food workers in New York City is $11,000, according to protest organizers Fast Food Forward. The group Wider Opportunities for Women estimates that a single mother with two children needs a minimum of $6,376 per month to survive in the Big Apple.
As a result of this discrepancy, many fast food workers rely on government services like Medicaid and food stamps.
“The fact is, we are subsidizing their business model,” says Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and attended the rally in Manhattan to show support for the workers. Ellison says the minimum wage is kept down by lobbyists who spend industry money to buy favorable legislation. He points out that the minimum wage, in real dollars, is lower now than it was in 1968.
Fast food chains can afford to pay their workers more (despite an ad campaign launched in response to the protests suggesting otherwise). A group of economists in support of a $10.50 minimum wage say that McDonald’s could cover half the cost of such an increase by raising the cost of a Big Mac from $4.00 to $4.05. Another study by a student at the University of Kansas found that McDonald’s could double all employee salaries — from workers earning the minimum wage to CEO Donald Thompson, who earned $8.75 million last year — by increasing the cost of a Big Mac by 68 cents.
Ellison, who supports increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation and executive pay, says that while “miracles happen,” with Congressional Republicans fighting against basics like food stamps and healthcare, consumers who support higher wages for fast food workers should put pressure on the industry by voting with their dollars.
“They need to say, if you’re not paying a livable wage, we’re not going in there,” he said.