Last week, a historic movement for a fair living wage took root across the US, when workers in Detroit, New York, Chicago and, this week, St. Louis, walked out of their fast food jobs to protest low wages and poor treatment by their employers.
At first, it seemed the mainstream media would ignore this effort and shrug it off, but the internet is a powerful thing, and the SEIU and other unions devoted much of their Twitter streams to getting the word out about the largest walk outs in the fast food industry’s history.
Jobs in the fast food industry are hard work. They always have been, and probably always will be. In 1995, while in high school, I worked at a bagel bakery for $4.75 an hour, hauling 50 pound bags of flour to the mixing machines, slicing meat, bagels, and sometimes my own fingers. I arrived at 4AM several days a week to begin baking bagels from scratch in a large, industrial oven that could bake up to 3 dozen bagels in just a few minutes. The bagel bakery was my first real job, and I gained a lot of muscle, a tolerance for standing on my feet for 10 hour stretches, and my first glimpse at financial independence. I gradually worked my way up to $6.00 an hour over the course of 18 months. I came home from work reeking of bleach and baked goods early in the evening, only to get up and do the same thing the next morning. It was honest, hard work, and it definitely helped prepare me for the “real world.” I was 16 years old, and a fast food job was the standard choice for teenagers before preparing for college or other career training.
Many of my coworkers were older than me, already in the “real world”, with real children, rent payments, and other expenses I was too young at the time to really fathom. Two of the women I worked with were single mothers who worked more than one job. They often came to work exhausted from their other jobs and spoke of aching backs and legs. Sometimes they brought colds or flu bugs with them to work and they stayed in the kitchen area prepping or hosing down the dishes. There were no paid sick days, and rarely did an illness become so severe that anyone would take an unpaid sick day. Yet my older coworkers were always cheerful, always greeting long-term customers by name, always happy to help manage the mixing and cream-cheese-churning machines.
It is mind-boggling to discover that in the past 16 years, minimum wage has barely increased more than a few dollars in all 50 states. In Georgia, for example, minimum wage workers scrape by on less money than I made in 1996, a mere $5.15 an hour, and sometimes less, if the business employs less than 6 people. In Arkansas, the minimum wage is only $6.25.
Minimum wage and fair pay are hot topics for the next election cycle, and it’s easy to see why. Decreasing dependence on food stamps and other government subsidized programs is dependent on a fair living wage. The cost of living increases every year without the media or government even blinking.
Aside from supporting new minimum wage increases, there ways to “vote with your wallet” for fair pay. The ROC Diner’s Guide has created a way for you to evaluate the restaurants you choose to dine at, based on the way they treat their workers. If you live in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, or Washington DC, you can work for change in your own community. Here’s a video explaining how the ROC Diner’s Guide can help you choose restaurants and even approach employers in your area about the way they treat their staff.
You can download the ROC Diner’s Guide here.
Or, even better: Get the new ROC Diners Guide iPhone app OR Android app for your smartphone. You can even use the app to tweet to managers and employers in your area and let them know you support fair, living wages for all.
You can also show your support for fast food and restaurant workers by tweeting & retweeting messages using the following hashtags on Twitter:
Or donate your account to tweet once a day, once a week, or once a month by joining @iheartfairpay’s campaign at http://donateyouraccount.com/fightforfairpay
- Organizers say St. Louis fast food strike to spread to new locations (stltoday.com)
- Detroit fast-food workers strike as U.S. movement for higher wages grows (business.financialpost.com)
- Largest fast food strike yet as workers walk out of McD’s, BK in Michigan (tv.msnbc.com)
- Hundreds protest for higher wages at fast-food restaurants (stltoday.com)
- SEIU agitates Chicago fast-food workers to demand $15/hr. wage (illinoisreview.typepad.com)