Fast Food Strikes Spread, Face Pushback


A thousand fast food outlets in 60 cities experienced worker walkouts yesterday. The movement that began weeks ago in New York City has spread to the South and West, including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Raleigh, N.C. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and community organizing groups such as New York Communities for Change called it “the largest protest ever to hit the fast-food industry.”

About 30 workers in Raleigh, N.C., picketed outside a Little Caesars. Julio Wilson said he earned $9 an hour at the pizza restaurant, not enough to support himself and his 5-year-old daughter.

“I know I’m risking my job, but it’s my right to fight for what I deserve,” Wilson said. “Nine dollars an hour is not enough to make ends meet nowadays.”

Industry groups were prepared for the one-day strike and pushed back:

In The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the conservative Employment Policies Institute ran a full-page ad with a picture of a robot making pancakes, warning that higher wages would mean “fewer entry-level jobs and more automated alternatives.”

The National Restaurant Association argued that the low pay is not based on the value workers add but by their life circumstances, because many are young and not responsible for their own households.

But Arne L. Kalleberg, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said the median age for fast-food workers is more than 28; for women it’s 32. And low-wage jobs are among the fastest-growing in the country, he said.

“These protests are a cry for help,” he said. “It’s a microcosm of a larger phenomenon. It reflects the growing frustration of these folks who have for a long time seen the gap between what they’re earning and the tons of money the corporations and the CEOs are making.”

Even as Fox News promotes agitprop about takers, Roberto Tejada, protesting the $8 an hour paid at a Los Angeles Taco Bell put a fine point on the issue:

“People can’t survive on the minimum wage,” he said. “Nobody who works full time should live in poverty.”

Strike organizers concur, saying in a recent statement,

Our country’s fastest growing jobs are also the lowest paid, slowing our recovery and hurting our local economy. While the fast food industry is making record profits, its workers are forced to rely on public assistance just to afford the basics. That’s why fast-food workers from across the country are joining together to fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without interference or unfair labor practices.

When someone with a full time job needs to go on public assistance for food and health care, the worker is not the “taker.”


  1. Tom Sullivan says:

    E.J. Dionne writes about the Fast Food strike in his Labor Day column:

    The genius of the labor movement has always been its insistence that if the law genuinely empowered workers to defend their own interests, the result would be a more just society requiring fewer direct interventions by government. This Labor Day could be remembered as the moment when that idea rose again.