Fast food workers walk off jobs and demand living wage, fair treatment

Today fast food workers at several of the nation’s largest chains including McDonald’s and KFC are walking out to draw attention to low-wage jobs, demand better pay for their hard work in the industry, and advocate for the right to form unions without retaliation.

Advocacy groups such as Fast Food Forward organized strikes in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Mo., and Flint, Mich., to protest the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Organizers and workers are demanding an increase to $15 per hour, a more realistic wage that will make it possible for fast food workers to live decent lives on the wages they make.

The nation-wide protest follows earlier walkouts in New York City last spring in which hundreds of workers walked off the job to draw attention to the poor wages and benefits of the hundreds of thousands of fast food service employees. Although no immediate changes followed these earlier actions, a notable result was that no workers were fired for their actions.

Labor organizers say this is the beginning of a movement to unionize service employees more generally, a task long thought impossible that now appears increasingly possible as workers everywhere are feeling the financial woes of the economic recession and demanding more fair treatment. Researchers project that over the next ten years, seven of the 10 fastest-growing jobs will be low-wage positions such as store clerks, laborers, and home health aides.

The plight of fast food workers also highlights the growing income disparity between workers and executives within the industry and across the economy. Fast food service employees in New York earn merely 25 percent of the money they need to survive, according to Fast Food Forward. What is more, executives in the fast food industry earn $11.9 million a year on average, while full-time employees earn a mere $15,080, according to the group.