On Thursday December 5th in 130 cities across the country fast food workers walked off their jobs calling for $15 in wages and the right to form a union.
In Oakland, CA, hundreds of supporters joined the action at a local McDonalds during the lunch rush hour, successfully interrupting business as usual. The crowd was comprised of workers from not only McDonalds, Burger King, Jack in the Box and Wendys’ but also “Our Walmart.” Chants of “Supersize my paycheck”, and “$15 and a Union” bounced between the walls, interspersed with chants in Spanish including “Valemos Más: We are worth more.”
The crowd was beautifully diverse with young children there in support of their parents, young adults and many older adults who find themselves working what used to be considered entry level jobs. The organizers had enlisted the support of two Ronald McDonald clown characters who added their antics.
With one bedroom apartments renting for $1100 to 1300/month in some neighborhoods, the pressure to make ends meet is unbearable. Several mothers who were there with young children and brightly decorated signs were smiling broadly, pleased with the show of solidarity and support for their cause.
Representatives from several unions collected signatures and passed out “$15 and a Union stickers.” Union members turned out as a powerful show of support for the right to organize. As the crowd began to disperse when the lunch hour rush ended, they were chanting, “We’ll be back, We’ll be back.” The word spread quickly through the crowd that later that afternoon, the protest would resume starting at Fruitvale BART, before marching to Jack in the Box to interrupt the dinner hour rush there.
McDonalds made $1.5 billion in profit in just the 3rd quarter of 2013. That’s just one chain in one quarter. Some say that the workers could be paid the $15 they are asking if the price of a Big Mac was increased by $.68. What doesn’t often get raised in the question of why the company can’t absorb the cost of paying the workers what they need to live on, out of the profits they are collecting from the customers.
When the workers must use social services to fill in the gap between what they make and what they need to live and take care of their families, taxpayer are subsidizing the fast food companies while they rake in the profits. McDonalds workers have collected $1.2 billion in poverty benefits. Jim Skinner the new CEO at McDonalds receives a salary of nearly fourteen million dollars. An $8.25/hour worker would have to work a million and a half hours — or 150 years– to earn the salary that top boss earns in one year.
The subsidy story doesn’t end there. Using a tax loophole, Yum Brands, Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza, and Dunkin’ Donuts also avoided paying $64 million in taxes in 2011 and 2012. Yet the media wants to keep the focus on how low wage workers demanding to be paid a living wage is going to cost other workers more to eat fast food.