Fast food pay protests spread across US
Demands for higher wages sees demonstrators target outlets in major cities across the country
A crowd of chanting workers gathered yesterday at a McDonald's in midtown Manhattan to call for higher wages and the chance to join a union.
It marked the start of a day of protests that organisers said would spread to 50 cities and 1,000 outlets across the United States.
About 500 people, including workers, activists, religious leaders, news crews and local politicians, gathered outside the McDonald's on Fifth Avenue. The protesters chanted "Si Se Puede" ("Yes, We Can") and "Hey, hey, ho, ho US$7.25 has got to go," and held signs saying "On Strike: Can't Survive on US$7.25", referring to the federal minimum hourly wage.
The protesters planned to spread out to other stores throughout New York during the day. Protests were also expected in Los Angeles, Chicago, Charlotte, North Carolina and elsewhere, with organisers expecting the biggest national walkouts yet in a demand for higher wages.
Meanwhile, the Employment Policies Institute, a Washington-based think tank, has placed a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal with a picture of a robot making what looks like pancakes. It explained that restaurants have to reduce their costs to keep prices low, which might mean switching to robots if wages get too high.
"Why robots could soon replace fast food workers demanding a higher minimum wage," the ad read.
The fast food protests began in New York on November 29. There have been three protests in New York since then, and they have spread to Chicago and other cities. Yesterday was the first time they had spread to Los Angeles and other cities.
"This is our fourth strike in New York, and now we have 50 cities striking with us," said protester Tyeisha Batts, 27, who has worked in fast food for six years. "I'm ready for a change."
More workers in blue- and white-collar jobs are agitating for better working conditions. But the fast-food protests are unique because they are not targeting one employer or company, but a whole industry.
In Chicago workers were expected to strike at Wendy's, Subway and McDonald's outlets. In New York, they were set to head to Wendy's, McDonald's and Burger King.
Derrick Langley, 27, stood in front of the chanting crowds, pointing to scars on his arms that he said came from cleaning the grill in a KFC restaurant.
"They don't seem to care," he said of his employers. "It's horrible how they manage us, how they talk to us, how they treat us. They don't respect us as human."
The fast food industry used to employ mostly younger people just trying to make some extra money as they went through school. Now, workers are older and depend on the work to feed families. Analysis by the Economic Policies Institute shows that the average age of minimum-wage workers is now 35, and that 88 per cent are 20 and older.