Fast food is an intrinsic part of modern American life; most citizens eat or work at a various chain or franchise, and many wind up doing both. Despite the backlash targeted at fast food companies concerning health, obesity problems, and cruelty towards livestock, the industry is majorly successful and going strong. Today, however, backlash against such fast food giants as McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King is taking a new turn that may just change the game; employees have staged walk-outs in many large cities, including New York City, Chicago, and Detroit, in order to strike for a higher minimum wage and the right to form unions.
The employees are currently demanding that the minimum wage be raised from the current $8.25 (or less, as is the case in New York City, where it is $7.25) an hour to a solid $15 an hour. The demand for change from a “poverty wage” to a “living wage” stems from a long history of mistreatment, underpaid work, and corporate greed. Workers claim that there is no way to earn a livable income from such low wages; as Joseph Barrera, a KFC employee from New York City puts it, “We help them earn those billions of dollars that give them the lifestyle that the CEOs get. They earn million-dollar paychecks, so why can’t they give us something that we can live on?”
There has been support for the strikes popping up on twitter with hashtages such as “#iamfastfood” and “#imnotlovingit” starting to trend as people nationwide add their voice to the cause.
— NYC CLC (@CentralLaborNYC) July 29, 2013
— Kirsten John Foy (@KirstenJohnFoy) July 11, 2013
There has also been negative feedback aimed at the employee’s protests, however; some claim that fast food wages are fine as is, and that change is not needed. Among those who ascribe to this train of thought are, oh-so-surprisingly, CEOs and other higher ups associated with fast food franchises. Burger King officials have come out as saying that front-line positions provide “launching pads” into more lucrative career opportunities, but the evidence to back up such a claim simply doesn’t exist; of the nearly 4.1 million people employed by fast food companies, only 2.2% are in higher-paid positions, such as managerial, technical, and professional.
Others have argued that fast food jobs are mostly held by high school and college students who do not require living wages, since these jobs are supposedly temporary and mostly for spending cash. However, according to Johnathan Westin, founder of Fast Food Forward (the group organizing these strikes), a large amount of employees are “not teenagers working after-school jobs… [they are] adults with families that are trying to take care of their kids and can’t put food on the table. They can work here for 10, 15 years, and are still making the same wages as when they started.”
The strikes are set to continue this week, but there is yet to be any indication of how effective they will truly be at bringing about change to minimum wage laws and the fast food industry.