Workers demand $15-an-hour minimum wage

Unions join fast food workers in coast-to-coast actions

Dec. 5 — The coast-to-coast movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current miserable federal minimum of $7.25 took a big step forward today.

Fast food workers, union organizers and many community and labor supporters staged imaginative and militant actions at chain eateries notorious for their low wages and high profits.

Favorite targets were McDonald’s, Burger King, Popeye’s and Wendy’s. Participation in these actions ranged from dozens to hundreds of people.

Many started early in the morning with occupations. Workers and their supporters marched into fast food restaurants chanting slogans and waving placards as delighted employees watched. Some were able to stay inside as long as half an hour before being ushered out by police who were called by managers.

Often these occupations were preceded by rallies where representatives of unions, community groups, religious organizations and sometimes elected officials — usually representing oppressed communities — expressed their support for the workers’ demands for higher pay, the right to be in a union, and no reprisals for their organizing activity.

Workers World received short reports from around the country by participants in some of these actions. There were no reports of arrests at these protests, reflecting the reluctance of the super-exploiting chains to further antagonize what is an extremely popular mass movement.

Actions in New York took place in several of the city’s sprawling  boroughs.

In Manhattan, one target was a McDonald’s on Broadway a few blocks south of Central Park. Some 250 people occupied it at 6:30 in the morning. Speeches focused on “We can’t survive on $7.25. We need $15 and a union!” Outside, speakers in English and Spanish demand respect for the skills and efforts of fast food workers and talked about the need to “Organize, organize, organize.” After the rally, workers danced to the beat of drums and chants of “Power! Workers’ power.”

In downtown Manhattan, at Foley Square near court buildings and City Hall, hundreds of mostly unionized workers rallied in solidarity with unorganized workers to demand a living wage for all. Many low-paid workers walked off the job to join the rally. A huge contingent of mostly young Black and Latino/a workers made a dramatic entrance into the square with a marching band. Many wore hats with the emblem “Fast Food Forward,” a national organization demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Union contingents included the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY, Communication Workers, United Federation of Teachers, District Council 37 AFL-CIO, 32 B-J, Department Store Union and Hotel Trades Council, among others.

Before the mass rally, activists with the People’s Power Assemblies Movement and Occu-Evolve held impromptu protests in front of a nearby McDonald’s and a Dunkin’ Donuts, notorious for paying their workers low wages and no benefits. Flash mobs entered both with chants of “No one can survive on $7.25” and “Workers have a right to organize for a union.” Smiling workers there showed they appreciated the solidarity.

In Brooklyn, a crowd tried to go into a Wendy’s on Fulton Street. Many were union organizers and fast food workers. The chants and signs were the same as at the other New York rallies, but also called for “no reprisals.” Management locked the doors, so a rally was held outside.

Chanting “Fast food workers, raise their pay, or we’ll keep yelling and won’t go ‘way!” and carrying signs calling for a $15 minimum wage, a group from the Buffalo, N.Y., International Action Center marched into a Burger King to the applause of the workers inside. Outside, the group held a well-attended press conference covered live on four channels and promised, “We’ll be back!”

In Baltimore, the “We Deserve Better” Workers’ Assembly went inside the North Avenue McDonald’s, did a “mic check” and distributed special “Thank you” cards with organizing information to workers and customers. The action got a lot of support inside and outside the restaurant, with people joining the picket line. A delegation from this protest then traveled to another McDonald’s at Fort Avenue and held a picket line outside.

Fast food workers across the U.S. South participated in the national strike. Nearly every Southern state had at least one city with strikes involving several stores, with strikes in four to six cities in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.  The Southern Workers Assembly had organized support for fast food strikers in many Southern cities, and will convene local Workers’ Assemblies with other organized and unorganized workers to help develop the fast food and low-wage workers’ struggle.

In North Carolina, there were picket lines at several stores in Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham and Greensboro.  At 6 a.m. workers gathered at a Burger King on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh and led chants and freedom songs. A cypher of a popular Michael Jackson song had workers singing, “All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us.”

Strikers then headed to a Burger King in Durham near North Gate Mall, where emerging powerful worker-leader Willette Dukes works. “Despite all my hard work, and even though fast food companies make billions in profits every year, I can’t afford to feed my family,” said Duke. “After 15 years’ experience in fast food, I am still making just $7.85 an hour at Burger King. Because of this, like the majority of fast food workers, I am forced to rely on government assistance to make ends meet.”

Later a few hundred striking fast food workers from Raleigh/Durham and Greensboro gathered at a McDonald’s on Avondale Drive. They crammed into the lobby and knelt in prayer led by the Rev. Curtis Gatewood, vice president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of MoralMonday/Forward Together Movement. Workers then began fierce chants that shut down operations for nearly 30 minutes. Workers on the clock were supportive, and one was brought to tears of joy seeing these courageous workers fighting for $15 an hour and a union.

Workers and supporters then marched down Roxboro Street toward a plaque marking a historic 1957 sit-in at Royal Ice Cream Parlor, three years before the seminal Greensboro Woolworth’s sit-in that sparked sit-ins at lunch counters across the state.  Joined by State Sen. Earline Parmon, who was arrested as part of Moral Monday civil disobedience this summer, the workers and community supporters made the connection between their struggle and the Civil Rights movement of the past.

In Wisconsin, low-wage workers and their labor-community supporters held various protest actions to demand a $15 hourly wage in Madison, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Stevens Point and Green Bay.

Dozens of low-wage workers and their supporters, including members of a diverse array of labor-community organizations, rallied at St. Mark’s Church in Kansas City, Mo. After the rally the growing crowd, which also included many family members of the workers, headed out to pack the lobbies of three nearby fast food restaurants — Popeye’s, McDonald’s and Wendy’s — chanting, “We can’t survive on $7.25” and demanding $15 an hour.

In downtown San Diego, a noisy crowd of fast food workers, unionists and community activists in front of Wendy’s made the purpose of their presence crystal clear: “We’re united for a $15/hour wage floor and the right to form a union without retaliation.”

Sharon Black, Joyce Chediac, G. Dunkel, Bob McCubbin, Monica Moorehead and Dante Strobino contributed to this roundup.