New York, NY – On Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, Friday, Jan. 15, in more than 15 cities across the country, fast-food workers will go on strike demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage from their corporate bosses. Cooks, cashiers and others will also call on the Biden Administration to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour in the first 100 days of his administration. The move would boost pay for more than 23 million workers and lift wages for nearly 40% of Black workers.
Low-wage workers have been demanding a federal $15 an hour minimum wage long before the start of the pandemic, which has only heightened the need for bold steps to advance economic and racial justice. In 2012, 200 fast-food workers walked off the job demanding a $15 an hour minimum and union rights. Since then, by speaking out, going on strike, and joining together, workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union movement have fundamentally changed the politics around wages in the country, turning a $15 an hour minimum wage from “absurdly ambitious” to “mainstream” in just a few years, according to the Washington Post.
The Fight for $15 and a Union movement has so far won $70 billion in raises for over 27 million workers; instituted $15 minimum wage laws in eight states, and put more than 43% of the country on the path to a $15 an hour minimum wage.
Raising pay to $15 an will also ease the burden on taxpayers, who have to pick up the bill when big corporations fail to pay their workers enough to survive. A recent study by the Government Accountability Office showed that big corporations like McDonald’s employ a sizable number of recipients of federal aid programs like Medicaid and SNAP. McDonald’s was in the top five of employers with employees receiving federal benefits in at least nine states, according to the report.
Taiwanna Milligan, a McDonald’s worker in Santee, South Carolina who has worked for the corporation for over seven years, first in Charleston and now in Saintee, where she makes $7.25 an hour, says she will be one of the strikers. Along with the low pay, her shift times are unstable, sometimes 8 hours, other times 4 hours, sometimes being asked to fill in for a co-worker and work double shifts.
“At this point, I am willing to do whatever it takes,” Milligan tells LaborPress. “I have a family that depends on me. One son and a niece and nephew that depend on me financially.”
At this point, it’s unclear exactly what form the one day walkout will take.
“We may do a caravan around the building. We are trying to play it safe due to the pandemic,” Milligan says.
The date of MLK’s birthday on which the strike will fall has special meaning for the North Carolina mom.
“[MLK] once was out here fighting for our rights and to have our voices heard,” she says. “He lost his life fighting for us. That plays a major part for me.”
Milligan said that other jobs outside the fast food industry may pay better and be unionized, but that she lacks the necessary level of education to qualify for them.
Milligan would like to study nursing. That’s visually an impossibility, however, without proper pay or even an effective mode of transportation.
“A lot of other jobs, you have to invest in your education,” Milligan says, “If I can help build up McDonald’s to be a billion dollar corporation, why can’t they invest in me to build up myself?
Milligan adds, “At this point, I don’t even want to send anyone to them for a job because it’s terrible.”