September 3, 2013
By Neal Tepel, LaborPress Publisher
New York NY – Fast-food employees striking and demonstrating have created a buzz across the country. In many U. S. Cities, workers in restaurants as McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC are calling for a living wage of $15-an hour and the right to form a union without fear of retaliation.
In fast food, the average hourly wage for non-management employees was $9.08 in June — or $18,886 a year for full-time workers — up from $8.66 when the recovery began in June 2009. Inflation-adjusted wages in the industry has fallen sharply: 3.9%.
At a recent ceremony commemorating the original 1963 march on Washington, President Obama said that “For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes.” President Obama has called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9, but the measure has stalled in Congress.
Low-wage jobs are now a significant component of employment opportunities in the country. These jobs do not allow workers financial independence and force a dependence on social services. More than a quarter of Americans earning less than $15 an hour receive one or more social services, such as food stamps and Medicaid according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Nearly 48 million people now receive food stamps, more than in any year of the 2007-09 recession.
Frustrations in low wage industries have sparked demonstrations in many cities against car washes, Wal-Mart stores, trucking companies, and fast food restaurants. Industries traditionally not organized or unionized are now being confronted by their employees for higher pay. These are workplaces reliant on part-time or temporary employment and often owned by large corporations.
The movement is growing in importance and legislators across the country are paying attention. Thirteen states and several cities have raised the minimum wage. Washington, D.C.’s City Council last month approved a bill requiring big-box retailers to pay a “living wage” of at least $12.50 an hour. And last year in California, Long Beach voters passed a measure requiring $13-an-hour pay for hotel workers.
This grass roots worker movement taking hold across the country began in New York City last November. The employee walkouts have been spearheaded by local communities and backed by organized labor. These successful organizing strategies have been less traditional – with goals to unite workers and communities rather than to unionize employees.
While progress may be slow short-term, Industries and working conditions could be revolutionized long-term.