The resistance to inhumane work conditions and low pay of the fast food industry has been bubbling beneath the surface for some time. The first organized walkout of industry workers happened in New York City last month. The walkouts inspired workers in Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit with other cities in the planning stages.
There is still a misperception that teens make up the majority of the nearly 3.5 million workers in the industry. This is simply not true. According to the Bureau of Labor Stats, the average age of these workers is 28 years and for women, it’s 32 years. Women make up two thirds of the workforce. Grown folks struggling to make ends meet while being treated like subhumans at work is a sure formula for rebellion.
The stories coming out of the national protests are revealing the ugly underside of the $200 billion industry and how it treats its employees.
Fast Food Forward campaign in New York documented the prevalence of wage theft in the local industry. The most common theft practices includes having to work before and after clocking in, working during scheduled meal breaks and working overtime without getting paid extra for it. These despicable practices are not unique to the New York area; they are widespread.
Additionally, most workers don’t have paid sick days or health care. And they have to find their own replacements when they are going to miss work.
Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter and Jimmy John’s founder Jimmy Liautaud have already vowed publicly to reduce their workers hours to avoid paying for health care under the Affordable Health Care Act. These declarations come at a time when fast food companies are making record profits and growing exponentially.
The fast food industry has taken a page from the Wal-Mart Employer Handbook. It pays these workers minimum wage to keep them in poverty and thereby allows them to be eligible for government assistance to supplement their paltry salaries.
In St. Louis, the campaign slogan was We Can’t Survive on $7.35. The hundreds of supporters who joined the protesting workers agree. It was a powerful image to witness teams of community and faith leaders escorting workers back to their jobs after their day of absence. The result was that no workers were hassled upon their return to work and to date, there’s been no retaliation by management.
Americans addiction to fast food fuels this industry so consumers do have a dog in this fight. If this movement is to be successful, it’s going to have to be a community effort and even be supported by those of us who don’t eat at these restaurants. We must add our voices to the workers’ demands for dignity in the workplace, a livable wage and the right to join a union.
Monday, 27 May 2013