Fast-food workers strike, protest 'poverty pay'

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Danielle Wilson (left) and Justice Wallace participate in yesterday's fast-food workers walkout. Protesters want hourly wages raised from the minimum to $15.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Danielle Wilson (left) and Justice Wallace participate in yesterday's fast-food workers walkout. Protesters want hourly wages raised from the minimum to $15.
Posted: May 16, 2014

DANIELLE WILSON can't afford to give her 3-year-old son gifts on holidays and birthdays.

Munira Edens broke her phone three months ago and now goes without one because a repair is too costly.

The eldest of six, James Moore tries to help his mother pay household expenses but often can't, because he makes just $150 a week.

These three fast-food workers were among more than 100 minimum-wage laborers and activists who marched along Broad Street yesterday morning to demand an end to poverty pay and the right to form a union without retaliation.

Workers walked off their jobs - the first fast-food workers' strike in Philadelphia, organizers said - as part of a wave of walkouts and protests yesterday in 150 U.S. cities and 33 countries.

The protesters want their hourly wage raised from the minimum of $7.25 to $15. They chanted: "We can't survive on $7.25!" and "No justice, no work! Low pay is not OK!" as they marched a mile and a half along Broad Street.

It was no coincidence that their march started and ended at two McDonald's restaurants: The burger giant has 1.9 million employees worldwide.

"Fast food is a $200 billion-a-year industry," said Fred Jones of the Fight for 15 Coalition, which organized the protest. "These fast-food CEOs make millions a year. Can't they share some with their workers? The truth is, they can."

Fast-food CEOs are among America's highest-paid executives, making an average of $26.7 million in 2012, according to an April report by Demos, a New York-based public-policy group. The ratio between the pay for fast-food CEOs and their workers was 1,200-to-1, according to the report dubbed "Fast Food Failure: How CEO-to-Worker Pay Disparity Undermines the Industry and the Overall Economy."

That irks workers like Glenn Davis, 44, a father of three who marched yesterday with a sign that read: "The CEO of McDonald's makes $9,425 per hour! #RAISETHEWAGE"

After the protest, Davis planned to head to court.

"I'm in foreclosure. I can't save my home on these slave wages," said Davis, who makes $100 a week working at a West Philly McDonald's. "I go to work grateful because I have a job. But it's really hard when you go home and you don't have electric on. We're fighting for a better future for our children."

Protester Shymara Jones, 20, of South Philly, works two jobs, making $7.60 an hour at Popeyes and $5.25 an hour (plus tips) at the airport.

"It's ridiculous," the mother of one said. "I wouldn't work two jobs if I could make $15 an hour."

Fast-food workers aren't teenagers toiling for pocket change, organizers said: 78 percent are the main earners for their families. The minimum wage traps workers in poverty and keeps the sour economy from rebounding, organizers added.

In a statement addressing yesterday's strike, McDonald's spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said: "McDonald's respects our employees' right to voice their opinions and to protest lawfully and peacefully. If employees participate in these activities, they are welcomed back."

Regarding the fight to raise wages and unionize, she said McDonald's offers "part-time and full-time employment, benefits and competitive pay based on the local marketplace and job level. [We're] committed to providing our respective employees with opportunities to succeed, and we have a long, proven history of providing advancement opportunities for those who want it. . . . We respect the right of employees to choose whether or not they want to unionize."


On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo

Blog: phillyconfidential.com

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