Fast-food workers in New York City are expected to walk off their jobs Thursday, one year after their first strike, joining a 100-city strike wave. Organizers say actions will take place all across the country as part of the movement for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. In New York City, there are more than 57,000 fast-food workers, and the median wage is $8.89/hour, the lowest of any occupation in the city. With support from union groups such as the Service Employees International Union, the fast-food protests have dramatically grown over the course of the last year. The early protests in New York City in November grew to thousands of protesters waging actions in seven other cities during the summer. An August strike spread to more than fifty cities, including areas in the South that have historically been hostile to union actions. This Thursday, there will be more new strike locations in Charleston, South Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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IPS reports, over the past two years, CEOs of the top six publicly held fast food chains brought home over $183 million in deductible "performance pay," which in turn reduced their companies' taxes by an estimated $64 million. As Sarah Anderson from IPS points out in an op-ed Monday, $64 million is enough to cover the average cost of food stamps for 40,000 American families for a year. Fast food profits, in this way, come at the taxpayer's expense from two sides: while CEOs' paychecks expand and corporations pay less in taxes, those companies have simultaneously worked "to keep low-level workers' wages so low that many must rely on public assistance." As another report from UC Berkeley recently showed, low-wage fast-food jobs currently cost the American public nearly $7 billion a year, as 52% of fast food workers, including those who work full-time, are payed so little they must rely on safety net programs including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Children's Health Insurance Program, as well as Earned Income Tax Credit payments.
On Thursday, December 5, fast food workers in 100 cities across the United States will take part in a nationally organized strike, demanding wages of $15 an hour, more than double the current federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour. The strikes are largely backed by unions, particularly the Service Employees International Union, and spearheaded by groups like Fight for 15 in Chicago and Fast Food Forward in New York City. The backstory: This is not the first time fast food workers have gone on strike this year. At the end of August this year, low-wage workers in 50 cities protested for a higher wage. The recent fast food worker movement stems back to November 2012, when 200 workers in more than 20 New York City restaurants staged a walkout, the first time ever for the industry. Protests and rallies by and for low-wage workers are an increasing trend in the U.S., most recently with Walmart workers around the country protesting on Black Friday
Around 400 workers in Stockton, CA who make cups and other packaging for Starbucks and fast food companies like McDonalds are facing sharp cuts in their benefits, hours and wages in addition to the replacement of good union jobs by temporary workers. Most are workers of color, and all are members of the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers. AWPPW has been in negotiations with the company for a full year, and the next round of talks will begin in early December. Accordingly, AWPPW and its allies are planning two protests in Seattle as part of an international day of action to fight back against poverty wages, cuts in benefits, and unsafe working conditions throughout the fast food supply chain. We're working in partnership with the IWW Starbucks Union, Pactiv New Jersey & Unite New Zealand.
For the first time in many years, there are not one, but two exciting new campaigns that have great potential to put unions back on the map of public consciousness. The efforts to organize workers at Walmart as well as workers at fast food restaurants and other big box stores in cities across the US have caught the attention of millions of people who previously had little to no connection to organized labor. In this article, I offer some thoughts on what makes these campaigns so exciting, followed by a sober assessment of the challenges that they face. I'll close with four recommendations for radicals looking to get involved in supporting these efforts, as I believe they should. should cast off the cynical approach of simply waiting for these campaigns to collapse due to the inevitable betrayal of the labor bureaucracy. The working class doesn't need Monday morning quarterbacks--we need thoughtful, dedicated activists working feverishly to establish facts on the ground (stronger workers' committees, support committees, union member support, and more) that open up ever newer and more exciting possibilities to organize low wage workers.