Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tampa fast food workers demand fair wages

Posted By on Thu, Sep 4, 2014 at 6:32 PM

click to enlarge Nearly a hundred protesters showed up for the second protest in Tampa on Thursday.
  • Nearly a hundred protesters showed up for the second protest in Tampa on Thursday.

Today in Tampa in front of two different McDonald’s stores, fast food workers walked off the job during two separate protests. They joined fellow fast food workers, organizers and activists to demand fair wages, and the ability to form a union without retaliation. One protest was held at 6:00 a.m. with approximately forty people in attendance , while the second protest had nearly a hundred demonstrating.

In July, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel determined that McDonald’s is a joint employer that exerts substantial power over the working conditions of its employees. Prior to this determination the company placed the responsibility of wages and working conditions on franchises, rather than the corporations that control food handling and pricing. 

Mandy Spencer walked off the clock today in Tampa. After getting permission from her boss, she joined the mass of protesters just as they peacefully lined up, side by side on the sidewalk, and turned to face the store. They chanted, “What does Democracy look like? This is what Democracy looks like.” When asked why she walked out, she says that she is tired of not being able to pay her bills. She says, “I have been here for seventeen years and I need a raise.” She still only make $8.25 an hour. She is nervous about returning to work, “Hopefully I’ll get the same hours.”

Steven Wilkerson, a fast food worker and former Marine, explains that after serving two terms in Iraq and being honorably discharged, he had a very hard time finding work. He now works at a Hess gas station and has three jobs. He manages to hold those separate jobs because there are three different fast food franchises in the gas station; Godfathers Pizza, Duncan Donuts and Quiznos. He is a man of many hats. 

“I have to know how to bake donuts," Wilkerson says. "I have to know how to make pizzas. I have to know how to make subs. I bring in orders, make orders and unload trucks. I do it all.”

After almost four years, he says that with minimum wage still at about $7.93, he still only makes $8.50 an hour. He says that he returned for a second protest because he received so much support and encouragement from fellow protesters and even his superiors at work. After being interviewed and cast in the news, he says, “They have been treating me a little bit better at my job.”

In an act of civil disobedience, the group stopped in the middle of the intersection at the noon protest in Temple Terrace, where a handful of protesters sat down. After only a few moments of confusion for drivers, the police were able to guide traffic safely around them. Then what appeared to be two McDonald's representatives approached them. What was said is unclear, but the police were professional, gracious and even seemed very accommodating to everyone involved.

The crowd then reconvened and marched from where they initially gathered, to chant and display another peaceful sit-down in front of another fast food restaurant several blocks away. Some were arrested in this second sit down.
click to enlarge Protestors at a Florida Avenue McDonald's early Thursday morning - CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner
  • Protestors at a Florida Avenue McDonald's early Thursday morning

There are currently four million fast food workers in the Nation.  The movement really gained momentum this past July at a two day convention near Chicago, where over a thousand fast food workers from all over the country gathered together to share life experiences, make future proposals and exchange ideas for upcoming protests.

Local fast food worker, Anthony Moore attended the convention. 

“There are a lot of things that we can do to speed along this process," he said. "We are trying to get paid more and ask for better working conditions.” He suggests that aside from protesting, fast food workers don’t have to hide their dissatisfaction, but instead they should express it to their superiors. “Sometimes it’s okay to express to them how we feel.”

It was reported Thursday night that nearly 500 fast-food workers—in uniforms from restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s—were arrested during the 150-city strike.

As the protesters marched away from the McDonald’s store, they chanted, “We’ll be back. We’ll be back.”

In response to today's protests, a spokesperson for McDonald's Tampa named Jessica Fox released this statement.

At McDonald’s we respect everyone’s rights to peacefully protest. The topic of minimum wage goes well beyond McDonald’s- it affects our country’s entire workforce. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace. We believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on owners of small and medium-sized businesses – like the ones who own and operate the majority of our restaurants – is manageable. Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of “full time” employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses owners.

It’s important to know approximately 90% of our U.S. restaurants are independently owned and operated by franchisees who set wages according to job level and local and federal laws. McDonald’s does not determine wages set by our more than 3,000 U.S. franchisees.


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