Thursday, August 29, 2013

[olympiaworkers] Fast food strike gets super-sized over wages

Aug. 29, 2013 CNBC

The battle to boost the minimum wage escalated Thursday when thousands of
workers at fast-food restaurants in 50 U.S. cities walked off the job to
demand a "decent" wage.

From San Diego to New York, workers stopped flipping burgers, frying
fries, and slathering on secret sauce in what organizers called the
largest strikes against the nation's fast food companies ever.

"You're trying to go up and you're just going down," said protester
Shantel Walker, 31, of Brooklyn, who makes $7.25 working at a Papa John's
(PZZA) in Manhattan. "All of us are in the same financial crunch. We're
trying to take care of our families and our livelihood."

The strikes mark the latest salvo in a nearly year-long battle to get not
only higher wages but also an opportunity to unionize without facing
retaliation from their employers. The workers' ire, too, is at the very
heart of a politicized debate to raise the country's minimum wage that
eventually may be decided in Washington.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told The Associated Press that the worker
strikes were a sign of the need to raise the minimum wage. "For all too
many people working minimum wage jobs, the rungs on the ladder of
opportunity are feeling further and further apart," Perez said.

At the core of the workers' demands with the $200 billion fast food
industry is salary starting at $15 an hour from the current $7.25 an hour
minimum wage and the $8.94 median wage for front-end workers.

Workers mobilized in cities from Alameda, Calif., to West Haven, Conn. and
across the nation, including several demonstrations set for New York City.
To date, strikes have been held one city or the other, or in regions, but
nothing like Thursday's national push involving hundreds of restaurants.

About 200 workers marched through the midtown Manhattan McDonald's (MCD)
on Thursday morning, and more gathered downtown in the Financial District.
As the streets became more crowded with protesters beating drums and
blowing loud whistles, police struggled to keep traffic moving.

(Read more: Earn minimum wage? It'll take this long to afford a Big Mac )

The strike comes as more and more fast food workers making minimum wage
are not teenagers, but adults trying to support families, particularly
since the Great Recession. Only 16 percent of fast food industry jobs now
go to teens, down from 25 percent a decade ago. More than 42 percent of
restaurant and fast-food employees over the age of 25 have at least some
college education, including 753,000 with a bachelor's degree or higher,
according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Janul Dixon, 35, came out on Thursday to offer his support to the workers.
He used to work at Wendy's for a low wage, but has since found work as an
exterminator. "They need to allow people to make enough to support their
family," he said. "In New York everything is going up but wages are not."

The National Restaurant Association has countered that only about 5
percent of fast-food workers earn the minimum wage. Other defenders of the
industry note that increased wage costs will be passed onto consumers.

"The restaurant industry provides opportunity to over 13 million Americans
with jobs that meet critical needs within our economy. We welcome a
national discussion on wages, but it should be based on facts," said Scott
DeFife, the association's executive vice president of policy and
government affairs. "The restaurant industry is the nation's second
largest private sector employer and our industry is an industry of

(Read more: Minimum wage hike: Just what the economy ordered? )

"Nine out of ten salaried restaurant workers, including owners and
managers, started as hourly workers. The fact is, only 5 percent of
restaurant employees earn the minimum wage, and those that do are
predominantly working part-time and half are teenagers," DeFife added.
"Restaurant jobs teach valuable skills and a strong work ethic that are
useful for workers throughout their professional careers."

McDonald's, which has 34,000 restaurants across the globe., was quick to
defend its salaries. "McDonald's aims to offer competitive pay and
benefits to our employees. We provide training and professional
development for all of those who wish to take advantage of those
opportunities," the company said in a statement. "Our history is full of
examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and
went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald's." The
chain posted $5.5 billion in profits last year on revenues of $27.5

Thursday's strike was expected to be "the largest attempt at worker
organizing in this industry ever" due to support from the Service Workers
International Union, and grassroots efforts from community groups, local
politicians and the clergy, said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, an attorney at the
National Employment Law Project.

"The workers are responding to total failure on behalf of the federal
government to raise the minimum wage to keep up with inflation and the
cost of living," Gebreselassie said.

(Read more: How bad math about Big Macs gives me indigestion )

Organizers stressed the importance of the strike spreading to Southern

"The South has always been the model for low wage employment, from slavery
to the Jim Crow laws, to the present," said Dorian Warren, an assistant
professor of political science at Columbia University who has published
work on labor organizing and inequality. "It's also the most anti-union
part of the country, so the fact that workers feel empowered enough to
take collective action is enormous."

Strikers complain that while revenue is up about 13 percent at fast-food
restaurants as of August, it's not being passed on to the workers.

All the media attention paid to the strikers Thursday will surely
re-ignite the minimum wage debate, in which opponents say higher
employment costs will mean fewer jobs and higher prices for customers. In
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the conservative Employment Policies
Institute ran a full-page ad with a picture of a robot making pancakes,
warning that higher wages would mean "fewer entry-level jobs and more
automated alternatives."

"You can either raise prices and lose customers, or (automate) those
jobs," said Michael Saltsman, EPI's research director. "The idea that
restaurants are rolling in the money is not representative of the
situation franchisees face."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

[olympiaworkers] SeaSol quickly wins $6,710 at a South Seattle grocery store.

Aug. 13, 2013

New SeaSol member Antonio worked at a grocery store in White Center for
two grueling years. Working regular 6-day, 72-hour weeks, Antonio received
no breaks, no overtime pay, and was irregularly compensated at less than
$7 per hour (far below Washington State's minimum wage). When he learned
of our win at Jumbo Buffet, Antonio got in touch with the Seattle
Solidarity Network. After much discussion and research, SeaSol and Antonio
voted to fight for 30 weeks of back wages, or $6,710, for Antonio.

On Saturday July 27th 2013, Antonio, his family, and over forty SeaSolers
filed into the store to deliver our demand. The atmosphere was tense as
the boss read the letter, shaking, and looking around at the stern faces
glaring in solidarity with Antonio. The boss was so intimidated by our
direct action that he immediately contacted a lawyer friend for help. His
lawyer called us the following Monday with weak - and quickly shut down -
attempts at bargaining.

On Thursday August 8th 2013, the thieving boss and his lawyer friend met
up with Antonio, his daughter, and other SeaSol members. More attempts to
bully Antonio into accepting less money were rejected, and Antonio was
paid $6,710 on the spot.

The unwavering position presented by SeaSol and Antonio throughout this
fight, our refusal to play legal games with a lawyer, and flawlessly
carried out direct action quickly resulted in a swift win in this fight.
Congratulations to our new comrade Antonio, and thanks to all who showed
up to the demand delivery!

[originally posted at August 2013]