As fast-food workers, we prepare burgers and fries, not balance sheets. We struggle to survive from paycheck to paycheck, without million-dollar annual bonuses or second homes. We often work behind the scenesor counters, getting little of the credit for billions of dollars in company profits.
And yet, fast-food workers dont just have the attention of the industrywe have it terrified.
In the past year and a half, our protests over poverty wages and the right to form a union, without retaliation have spread like wildfire. The first strike, just a year and a half ago, involved a few hundred workers in one city. Five strikes later, the one in May took place in more than 150 US cities, with additional protests in 33 countries. And this weekend, I am traveling from South Carolina to Chicago with more than 1,000 workers for our first-ever nationwide convention, where well discuss how to escalate our fight for $15 an hour and a union.
McDonalds recently warned investors in its annual report filed with the Securities Exchange Commission of the potential material impact on results from boycotts or protests, labor strikes and supply chain interruptions. The company also warned that pressure for higher wages may intensify with increasing public focus on matters of income inequality.
How have seemingly powerless people like me mounted a serious challenge to some of the richest companies in the world? Here are the five key ingredients:
Have truth on your side. We make a median wage of $8.94, with an average of only 24 hours a week. Many, including me, making much less. Fast food CEOs, meanwhile, are living large. They earned an average of $26.7 million in 2012, making for CEO to worker pay gap of 1,200 to one, the highest, by far, of any industry. They could afford to pay a living wage.
The industry has no way to refute these facts. McDonalds implies that it shouldnt have to pay a living wage because McDonalds represents a first job and a pathway to a long-term career. In reality, half of the industrys workers are over 28 years old. At most, 2% of the jobs are in management, and many of those barely pay more than minimum wage.
Raising wages isnt just good for workers and families; its critical to kick-starting our economy and boosting bottom lines. When workers like me dont have enough to afford basic necessities, we all suffer. More than half of fast-food workers are on public assistance, costing taxpayers $7 billion a year. Just look at whats happened this year. All 13 states that raised their minimum wage in 2014 have had stronger employment growth than the 37 states that didnt, according to a recent report. Retailers like the Gap who raised wages say they are already seeing benefits, too.
Spur local change. After six strikes, fast-food workers have helped get the whole nation talking about the need to raise poverty wages. What many initially laughed at our call for $15 an houris today the benchmark for cities and states around the country. Seattle passed a $15 minimum wage and cities from San Francisco to Chicago to Los Angeles are increasingly adopting our rallying cry.
Weve also organized to raise the issue of wage theft. A study released in April found that 89% of fast-food workers have been forced to do off-the-books work, been denied breaks, or been cheated out of overtime pay. Fast-food workers in three states have filed class-action lawsuits over wage theft, and New York State has already reached settlements with several companies over the issue, including McDonalds and Dominos.
Go global. The spread of our movement overseas spells trouble for fast-food giants. In May, there were protests or strikes in Germany, Italy, Brazil, Japan and dozens of other countries. There were even flash mobs at five McDonalds in the Philippines. As one expert recently put it, if the worker movement prompts this much concern in the US where sales are slumping, imagine the level of alert once it reaches countries that are key drivers of fast-food corporations growth.
Show them whos boss. No, not what you think. We dont want to be the boss. We want McDonalds and other fast-food companies to acknowledge that they are bosses. But since they keep saying that franchisees are in charge, and that they have no responsibility for workers, weve filed federal charges arguing that theres no doubt who the boss is. According to multiple news reports, the National Labor Relations Boards general council is about to issue a complaint saying that McDonalds is indeed an employer. Maybe then they will will stop blaming our poor treatment on franchisees and pay us a wage we can live on.
Take risks. Weve learned our history from the civil rights movement and other Americans who stood up for what is right, at great personal risk. Weve put our jobs on the line to strike. At the McDonalds shareholders meeting in May, more than a hundred of us were arresteda major escalation in our campaign.
But still, fast-food companies refuse to listen. Thats why in Chicago this weekend, workers from every corner of the country are pledging to do whatever it takes for $15 and a union, including getting arrested.
Ive worked at McDonalds for 10 years and still make $7.35 an houronly pennies above the federal minimum wage. My four girls deserve better. I deserve better. McDonalds and the other fast-food companies are going to learn that when you arent paid enough to survive, youre willing to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, until you are treated fairly.