Fast-food workers from 150 U.S. cities and 30 other countries will come together to stage one-day protests on May 15, demanding a minimum wage of $15 per hour and the right to unionize.
The initial campaign for improved pay and working conditions for American fast-food employees originated in New York in late 2012. Last year, the movement reached 100 cities
in December, including Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.
However, this week marks the first time that a labor action in the fast-food movement will prompt global solidarity.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ occupational employment data from May 2013, the median hourly wage for fast-food cooks
is $8.88, with annual earnings of $18,470.
The median hourly wage for combined food preparation and serving workers
, including fast-food employees, is $8.81, with an annual wage of $18,330. Florida is one of five states that employ fast-food prep and serving workers the most.
Though some may say the push to organize is still relatively new to the Bay area, those who plan to participate in Thursday’s demonstrations expect good turnouts and believe in the message of the movement.
The first Tampa strike, targeting the McDonald’s at 1520 W. Kennedy Blvd., will be held at 6 a.m. Demonstrators will then trek to Orlando for a noon rally at 6875 Sand Lake Road, the largest McDonald’s in the state. At 4:30, once demonstrators return to Tampa, a final strike will occur at a cluster of fast-food joints at Fletcher Avenue and 22nd Street.
“If they (fast-food workers) make enough noise and conviction for it (a minimum wage increase and the ability to form unions), definitely it’s possible,” said Steven Wilkerson, 28, who works at a Dunkin’ Donuts, Quiznos and Godfather’s Pizza inside of a Hess gas station, and is raising two children who are in diapers.
After starting out at $7.50 an hour three years ago, the former marine is now making $8.50 — a $1 difference.
“It’s been a problem for a long time,” he said, adding that people who aren’t employed by the fast-food industry are aware of the situation, the tribulations workers experience.
The relationship that Wilkerson and his customers, who’ve voiced their support of him, have formed, gives him encouragement going in to the strikes.
Wilkerson said most of his weekly paychecks go toward his family and transportation, which involves purchasing a $65 bus pass every month as well as taking cabs when work schedules him during times that buses aren’t running.
of U.S. minimum-wage workers are women, according to the National Women's Law Center, and 22 percent of them are women of color. Many of these employees earn a federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
A local labor organizer told CL that most of the women demonstrating are single mothers.
Bleu Rainer, 25, an Arby’s employee who works about 22 to 25 hours each week and is also protesting, said workers produce the small things that make CEOs’ pockets full. To her, respect in the workplace counts just as much as higher wages to fast-food employees.
Paid bi-weekly at $7.93 an hour, Florida’s minimum wage, Rainer said if she gets her paycheck on a Friday, she typically runs out of money by Saturday or Sunday. After paying bills and buying toiletries, there’s nothing left to save. She can’t afford to take time off.
She said $15 per hour would allow workers to earn a living wage without government assistance, and would only add 10 or 15 cents to the price of a cheeseburger, which she tried explaining to Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) during an April town hall event
Another military veteran, Darryl Rogers, 31, who works at Dunkin’ Donuts making $7.93 hourly, served four tours in Iraq for seven years. He received an honorable discharge but continues to wait for Veterans Affairs to get back to him about his G.I. Bill or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Involved with the strikes because the cost of living is increasing, Rogers said he knows how difficult bills and rent can be for fast-food workers with children. He works 28- to 40-hour workweeks, and although he doesn’t have kids of his own, he knows those parents.
Rogers said he wants to be able to say that he was part of the movement, that his voice was heard, despite potential employer repercussions that workers have to consider.
“Putting my story out there might help someone else too,” he said.
In August 2013, a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research said 70 percent of U.S. fast-food workers are over 20 years old
. More than 30 percent of the industry’s employees have some college education, and of the workers who are 20 and older, more than one-third are raising children.
Wilkerson and Rogers said they would accept a wage increase that didn’t match their asking price. However, Rainer said anything less than $15, even the $10.10 rate that President Barack Obama endorses, isn’t enough.
“We still can’t settle … then they’ll think they have the upper foot when employees need to have the upper foot,” Rainer said.
Edit: Strike locations were added Wednesday, May 14, at about 10:30 p.m.