Support Striking Fast Food Workers

Today, fast food workers across the United States are striking for higher pay. Paltry minimum wages mean that workers are paid as little as $7.25 an hour — not nearly enough to live off of, let alone raise a family. More than 13 percent of fast food workers rely on food stamps to make ends meet, and a disproportionate number of fast food employees are women of color. Willietta Dukes is one woman who will be striking today. She writes:

I’ve worked at fast-food restaurants in North Carolina for the past 15 years. I’ve spent more hours at Church’s Chicken, McDonald’s and now Burger King than I can remember. I work hard – I never miss a shift and always arrive on time. But today, I’m going on strike.

I make $7.85 at Burger King as a guest ambassador and team leader, where I train new employees on restaurant regulations and perform the manager’s duties in their absence. Before Burger King, I worked at Church’s for 12 years, starting at $6.30 and ending at just a little more than $8 an hour.

I’ve never walked off a job before. I don’t consider myself an activist, and I’ve never been involved with politics. I’m a mother with two sons, and like any mom knows, raising two teenage boys is tough. Raising them as a single mother, on less than $8 an hour, is nearly impossible, though.

My boys, Tramaine and Russell Jr are now 20 and 21 years old. When they were in middle and high school, I had to work two fast-food jobs to make ends meet. Most days, I would put them on the bus at 6:30am before working a 9 to 4 shift at one restaurant, then a 5-close shift at another. If I had a day off, I was at their schools, checking in with their teachers and making sure they were keeping up with their education. I wanted them, when they were grown-up, to not have to work two jobs.

My hours, like many of my coworkers, were cut this year, and I now work only 25 to 28 hours each week. I can’t afford to pay my bills working part time and making $7.85, and last month, I lost my house. Now, I go back and forth between staying with Russell Jr and Tramaine. I never imagined my life would be like this at this point. I successfully raised two boys, and now I’m forced to live out of their spare bedrooms. That’s why I’m on strike today.

Sally Kohn at the Daily Beast adds:

People of color make up 32 percent of the total American workforce but a disproportionate 42 percent of minimum-wage earners. And in the restaurant and fast-food industries, the majority of those workers are women of color—who, studies show, are paid 60 percent less than their male counterparts. Over 13 percent of food-industry workers rely on food stamps to feed their own families, almost double the rate of workers in other industries. Like Sepulveda, millions of food workers are struggling to raise a family while making just $7.25 an hour, or sometimes less. And Sepulveda, mind you, is trying to scrape by in the most expensive city in America.

Meanwhile, the multinational corporation for which Sepulveda works, McDonald’s, made $8.5 billion in profits in 2012. The last CEO of McDonald’s, Jim Skinner, took home $8.75 million in pay the previous year.

It’s worth noting that one of the demands of the March on Washington 50 years ago was a $2 minimum wage. In 2013 terms, that’s about $13.50.

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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Business, Class, Politics, Poverty, Work and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Support Striking Fast Food Workers

  1. 2ndnin says:

    How can they be paid only 60% of minimum wage – isn’t that illegal?

    • Jill says:

      Who’s getting paid 60% of the minimum wage? The federal minimum is $7.25 an hour.

      • 2ndnin says:

        The post said woc were getting paid 60% of the average wage but if its a minimum wage job I can’t see how they get paid less unless its tips but I didn’t think even Americans tipped at fast food restaurants

      • Taylor says:

        It’s like how 1,000’s of female wal-mart employees were suing wal-mart due to not getting promoted as often as the men that had been there just as long as them. They would do the job of a manager yet unlike the men they wouldn’t be fairly compensated. From reading this one woman’s account…she worked there 12 years, and in that time her pay only went up by over a dollar…WHAT!! That is absolutely ridiculous.

      • Willemina says:

        Minimum wage varies by state, and while jobs are often described as “minimum wage” that often only indicates the starting pay. If you click through the link provided next to the statistic there is more information.

      • Willemina says:

        Meant to be in response to 2ndnin.

      • Mac Geough says:

        Restaurant workers and other “tipped” employees are exempt from the Federal Wage Act, to $2.13. This has been so for 20yrs! One person you can thank for it is Herman Caine, Republican primary presidential candidate. He was president of The Restaurant Assoc. and owns a string of Pizza joints. How many tips does anyone in Pizza joint get. Take out and go.

    • Becca Stareyes says:

      The post doesn’t say that Federal minimum wage is $13.50, but that the March on Washington 50 years ago wanted a wage that would be $13.50 in today’s dollars. The USA minimum wage is not tied to inflation so even if the minimum wage was raised to $2 fifty years ago, it would have had to be repeatedly raised by Congress to keep up with a higher cost of living.

      (Also, technically, there are exceptions to minimum wage in the food service industry, but those involve waitstaff who can pick up tips*. Fast-food workers are required to be paid at least minimum wage: the problem is that minimum wage is, as Ms. Dukes notes, not enough for even a single adult to live on.)

      * Which is another (yet related) issue, so I’ll defer my discussion on that.

    • 60% of male wages “in the restaurant and fast-food industries.” So we’re talking about a larger category than minimum wage jobs.

      Add on to that gender disparities when it comes to who gets hired as a shift manager or store manager, or who gets how many hours.

  2. Karak says:

    I’ve been working in fast food for years. At one point I was making $8.50 an hour, 28 hours a week, and I applied for food stamps because I was living off my credit cards and paying for my rent by cooking and cleaning for my roommate.

    The food stamp people said they didn’t consider my credit card payments, student loan payments, or outrageous cost of gas. Just my rent and dependents. I didn’t qualify based on the fact my rent was “free”. When I explained I was essentially homeless and working like an unpaid domestic worker for a bed to sleep in, the lady sighed and re-iterated I didn’t qualify.

    What. The. Fuck.

    • pheenobarbidoll says:

      Learned long ago to lie to those people. You get your roommate to say you’re paying rent( figure out what your domestic labor is worth). Sucks, but the system is set up to deny you.

      • Fat Steve says:

        Learned long ago to lie to those people. You get your roommate to say you’re paying rent( figure out what your domestic labor is worth). Sucks, but the system is set up to deny you.

        Pheeno, I hate to put words in your mouth and would never claim to know what you’re thinking, but surely you meant to say ‘IF I was in that situation I would have learned long ago to lie….’ ;)

    • Willemina says:

      I wish the fucked-uped-ness of your situation could be forged in to a hammer to poleaxe the critics of a living minimum wage.

      If you make and serve food for a living, you should be able to afford to eat. >.<

    • Palaverer says:

      I applied for food stamps when I was out of work between jobs. I was denied because I had to be working at least 20 hours per week. When I got the hours, I didn’t need the food stamps any more. This system is completely fucked up.

  3. Tony says:

    Great news that this strike is happening.

    When I was reading years ago from Daniel Bell’s “The End of Ideology”, one of the first books to correctly identify the decline of private sector unionism (it was published in 1960), I remember they had two main conditions for the success of private sector union success. The first was that organizing had to occur in a monopolistic industry. The second was that organizing had to be simultaneous and industry-wide, with the aim of achieving industry standards for labor agreements. These conditions prevented non-unionized competitors from coming in and undercutting unionized companies, or unionized companies from losing market share to existing non-unionized competitors. With decades of experience, an additional corollary to this would be that unionization happens in a non-tradeable industry: the jobs may be vulnerable to mechanization, but they can’t simply be “offshored”. The fact that private manufacturing industries failed all of these requirements after the 1960s, while government met all of these requirements, had much to do with the relative rise of public sector employee unions.

    The fast food retailers, ironically by consolidating themselves into these massive chains, have created relatively monopolistic conditions- which it’s in the unions’ interest, IMO, to further, maintain and protect. The jobs are service jobs so they can’t just be offshored. And the fact that this is happening nationally and not just confined to one or two companies is the final condition for potential success. It would be nice if this expanded into general retail (Wal-Mart, Costco, etc)

  4. Athenia says:

    I support this strike 110%.

  5. Denise Winters says:

    These are compelling stories and a strike I fully support. It still never fails to baffle me how so many people in the U.S. seem to at the same time rail against paying people a living wage, shame people for having certain types of jobs, and fight against any type of public assistance. The Horatio Alger myth lives and tends to serve as a rallying point for people who want to argue that these working conditions are admirable in the sense that people should work two or three jobs just to get by (while eating only beans and rice of course) and then not ask for more or so any dissatisfaction or disgruntlement. They should be grateful to work for decades just to raise their children and then do nothing more than hope their children will do better. I am glad this movement is getting attention and support.

    • Denise Winters says:

      Also, there are so many ways to get around minimum wage laws in the U.S. that go beyond just designating someone as a server. Including if some has certain mental of physical disabilities, someone’s age, or their school enrollment status. That people who are under 18 should be paid less than minimum wage is something else I too often hear with no thought given to the fact that not all young people are working “to gain responsibility” but rather to save for school and help support their families. And the limiting of people to less than 40 hours a week to avoid having to designate them as full-time, and the hiring of numerous people and cutting of everyone’s hours are often used tactics.

      • Angie unduplicated says:

        The law allows an extended “training wage” that is half minimum. Goodwill Industries is notorious for this, and has incurred numerous complaints for exceeding this. No, they’re not fast food.
        So many complaints in MSM about overpayment relative to skills, and few or none about the greedhead wages at the top. Multinationals which shift payroll costs onto the social service systems, while evading taxes, should not be in business. That’s fraud.

      • Rhoanna says:

        Goodwill (and other employers) take advantage of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows them to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage. There isn’t a minimum wage that they have to be paid, it can be well less than half minimum wage. The idea is that workers are paid in proportion to their ability to perform the work; not surprisingly, this leads to exploitively low wages.

      • amblingalong says:

        I find this one really tough. I mean, on the one hang, the message it sends to pay disabled people less is really, really fucked up. On the other, there’s actually pretty solid, empirical data that support the contention that without this legal exemption, there would be WAY fewer jobs for significantly disabled people, especially cognitively disabled people, over all.

        If anyone has some clarity I’d appreciate it.

  6. BroadBlogs says:

    Just one reason the rich are getting richer and the middle-class is disappearing. Too many wealthy pay below a living wage and take the rest for themselves.

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  9. Radfem says:

    It’s hard to offshore service jobs, but I can readily believe that McDonald’s will automate the work as soon as it’s cheaper to have machines than people – which could be pretty soon.

    we have jack in the box restaurants with self-cashiers already like you find in grocery and other stores.

    I worked years ago for #1 on the employee dissatisfaction list and I was shoved by a shift supervisor out the drive thru window into a convertible on top of a man and a tray of drinks, getting stuck in the window. The man was very nice, coming in and threatening to beat up the manager. It didn’t happen but he did call the CEO and founder in Anaheim to report it which greatly helped me when I got fed up and sent a long letter to the CEO about how I felt about working at his store. His secretary was sick, he actually opened the letter and talk about a shitstorm in Anaheim. When I was asked about the allegations of the drive thru window, they had his story by then to back me up and I was grateful for that b/c we all know minimum wage employees are all liars, lazy arses and stupid. I mean look how the media portrays people in that profession and people talk about the person being stupid enough only for a Mickey Dees job?

    None of us trusted progressives b/c they weren’t interested in labor violations (of which my store had many from minors’ hours, to health code to safety), they were interested in the CEO’s money he gave to anti-abortion movements. I understand them being upset but don’t use people to get what you want. When you have people needing ambulances due to slip or trip in falls (including one woman who suffered two degree burns from the fryer), it’s hard to think politically about other issues. That needed to be respected.

  10. Radfem says:

    It’s hard to offshore service jobs, but I can readily believe that McDonald’s will automate the work as soon as it’s cheaper to have machines than people – which could be pretty soon.It’s hard to offshore service jobs, but I can readily believe that McDonald’s will automate the work as soon as it’s cheaper to have machines than people – which could be pretty soon.

    Already there with Jack in the Box automating cashier/order service which is the easiest. Drive thru would be logistically harder and that’s about half the customer base. I’d like to see a machine try to put together a famous star or super star but if they’re premade and put in the micro maybe that’d automate it. Friable foods are already pretty much there in most places.

    • Hm, I’m skeptical. We’ve seen how well self-checkouts and the like work in retail–they require at least one human employee to make a transaction go through smoothly in my experience, and usually two or three.

      I’ve taken a look at Jack n the Box’s automation as well. I didn’t see any option for “I don’t want any ****ing cheese on this taco” anywhere so I wonder how popular they’ll be.

      • Radfem says:

        Yeah the first round of automated checkpoints failed 10 years ago b/c people ring it up, void it out without paying and walk out with free stuff. Then they came back with at least one person supervising. Also authorizing alcohol, cigarette and in California, Rated R or Unrated DVDs which require ID to purchase through that. Also for cold medicines which in many places now are still OTC if you produce photo ID for them.

        Jack in the Box, it’s pretty specific though not for every type of customized order. They were being used when I was there but I only saw them at a store that’s often used for “testing”. Micky Dee’s maybe b/c they’re not as heavy into customizing orders as say, Carls Jr. or Burger King. I don’t see “secret shoppers” using them either since suggestive selling and attentiveness to your customer when they first walk in (i.e. greeting them) is a high portion of the score.

      • Radfem says:

        That said, if they could automate a way to clean a shake machine, I’m on board for that.

  11. Iamabanana says:

    I think as “minimum wage jobs” go, my thinking is this:

    I wouldn’t mind a system where good workers were rewarded for staying with a company by starting them off on a more “minimum” wage (which should still be at least $9 an hour) and then bumping them up to something like $13 or so after a period of time. Maybe go to $11.50 at six months, $13 at twelve … give them real raises after a set period of time (not arbitrarily).

    Managers don’t like to constantly have to hire new people. Customers don’t like constantly dealing with new people who can’t answer their questions or take forever on the register. It seems to me that it would be much better to have a system in place that serves to retain employees to avoid this problem.

    Of course, this makes me an idiot, I guess. I was a member of a union and we were fighting to get our employer to see the merit in raising salaries and not trying to shaft us around every corner. And the higher-ups said they actually preferred having high turnover because it provided our students with “fresh, new teachers.” Meanwhile we were arguing that our students did not like this. And that they preferred seasoned teachers who knew what they were doing. It seems there’s a disconnect between those of us living on planet Earth and those who reside somewhere high above the clouds.

    My idea up above would work, I think. And you would have employees sticking around to get that substantial raise. But then the CEO would decide that no, no one likes seasoned employees. We’ll just fire them at 11 months and hire someone new. Or fire and re-hire the employee. I’ve seen that one done actually, where employees are considered “independent contractors” who must be hired after 12 months of employment. So the place hires them for 11.75 months and then re-hires them again the next month.

    Just as an anecdote, in my last two jobs any raise we received was paltry. In the first one it was 10 cents/hr every year. In the next I received a 12 cent raise after six months and then 18 cents the next year so that I was finally making $9/hr in a city where a studio apartment costs about $1000. When you give such crap raises you’re basically telling the employee, “Oh, you’re still here?”

    tl;dr INVEST IN YOUR EMPLOYEES. It’s good for you, good for them, good for the company and good for the customers!

    • amblingalong says:

      tl;dr INVEST IN YOUR EMPLOYEES. It’s good for you, good for them, good for the company and good for the customers!

      I mean, 99% of the reason McDonalds can get away with paying almost nothing is that this isn’t true in every field. In jobs that largely amount to performing the same simple mechanical tasks repeatedly (take order, swipe card, refill deep fryer) there’s very little advantage to having more experienced employees. And when the economy is bad and a ton of people need work, companies can be fairly confident they can rely on having workers even at shitty wages.

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  13. Radfem says:

    ooh Carl’s Jr. scored #1 for lowest employee satisfaction, hmmm….why didn’t that surprise me, lol.

  14. Olivia Young says:

    While I do think workers in these types of jobs should make more, $15 per hour is way too much. I am a college graduate who started out making that much at my first job in the medical field. That’s not an even playing field. If we start paying fast food workers what a college grad makes right out of school, it makes a mockery of those of us who worked our arses off to get that Bachelor’s degree. Not to mention most employers at top firms and doctor’s offices are NOT going to start paying more simply because the minimum wage is raised astronomically. If one wants a better life, a better job, they seek it out. My husband started out at the bottom in his career and now, through sheer hard work, discipline and determination, is climbing that ladder of success higher and higher. There are many in the fast food industry who don’t even have a high school diploma. They don’t deserve to make as much as a kid who’s worked his or her butt off to achieve a higher education. I think $9 an hour is fine. But $15 an hour is unacceptable and unrealistic.

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