Restaurant workers plan wage protests in seven cities

Thousands of minimum-wage employees, most of them in the limited-service restaurant industry, are planning to walk off their jobs next week in what is being called "an unprecedented wave of strikes." The organized strike is planned for July 29 in seven cities — New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Mo., and Flint, Mich.

The employees are specifically organizing to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, as well as the right to form a union without retaliation.

On July 29, workers are expected to walk off their jobs at several QSR chains, including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Domino's and KFC. Retail workers at stores, including Macy's, Victoria's Secret and Dollar Tree are expected to join them. The walkouts are expected to extend through Aug. 1.

"When you make minimum wage, you don't have a heck of a lot to lose by speaking out," said Kareem Starks, a McDonald's worker in Brooklyn. "But remaining silent is not an option because it's nearly impossible to survive on $7.25 an hour."

The campaigns are being run by local labor-community-clergy alliances that include groups such as New York Communities for Change, Jobs with Justice, Action Now, 99 Pastors and Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is providing financial and technical support to the campaigns and is lending staff to help train organizers in each city.

Several national labor groups across the country are supporting the campaign. Change to Win is providing research and communications support. Local labor groups are also representing workers in each city.

"It's unacceptable that right now, our fastest-growing jobs don't pay enough for workers to afford rent, food and clothes," said Bob King, UAW president. "If our economy is going to recover, profitable corporations should pay their workers a living wage, and that's exactly what these workers are demanding by uniting."

The strikes come on a the heels of a national wave of worker walkouts, including strikes by QSR employees in Seattle, Detroit, St. Louis and New York, which hosted the "biggest strike in fast food history" in April.

New report highlights lack of mobility

The organized strike was announced the same day a new report was released by the National Employment Law Project, showing that 2.2 percent of jobs in the quick-service industry are managerial or professional positions. Opportunities for franchise ownership are even more limited, making up 1 percent of all jobs in the industry.

"While the industry argues that frontline jobs are a stepping stone to a brighter future for its employees, that's more myth than reality for most fast food workers," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. "The truth is, millions of fast-food workers will never have an opportunity to move beyond front line jobs. That's why it's so critical that instead of empty promises of future possibilities, the industry act to ensure that the jobs most fast food workers occupy provide the wages and benefits workers need to support themselves and their families."

Front-line positions (i.e. cooks, cashiers, and other crew members) make up 89.1 percent of all jobs in the industry and pay a median wage of $8.94 per hour. First-line supervisors make up another 8.7 percent of jobs in the industry and pay a median wage of $13.06 per hour.

Despite the study and the mounting pressure from QSR employees, McDonald's CEO Don Thompson told Bloomberg Television this week that the chain has "always been an above-minimum wage employer" that provides opportunity to rise through the system and "gain greater wealth."

Push for higher minimum wage

As protests spread throughout the industry, President Obama touched upon the low-wage topic during his speech Thursday at Knox College in Illinois.

"This growing inequality isn't just morally wrong; it's bad economics. When middle-class families have less to spend, businesses have fewer customers. When wealth concentrates at the very top, it can inflate unstable bubbles that threaten the economy. When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther apart, it undermines the very essence of this country," he said, vowing that he will pressure Congress to "set an example by providing decent wages and salaries to their own employees."

The minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour and is the standard in 30 states. The last time it was raised was this week in 2009.

Read more about staffing news.

Photo provided by Fightfor15.org and STL735.org.

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