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Fast-food, retail workers call for national strike

Aug. 29 walkout sought to press for higher wages

Seattle police explained the arrest procedure to protesters blocking an intersection Aug. 1. There were several arrests. Washington has the highest state minimum wage, $9.19.

ELAINE THOMPSON/AP/FILE 2013

Seattle police explained the arrest procedure to protesters blocking an intersection Aug. 1. There were several arrests. Washington has the highest state minimum wage, $9.19.

WASHINGTON — Emboldened by an outpouring of support on social media, low-wage fast-food and retail workers in eight cities who have staged walkouts this year are calling for a national day of strikes Aug. 29.

The workers — backed by community groups and national unions, they have held one-day walkouts in cities such as New York and Detroit — say workers in dozens of cities have pledged support.

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They are calling for a wage of $15 an hour and the right to form unions. Organizers of the walkout say cashiers, cooks, and crew members at fast-food restaurants are paid a median wage of $8.94 an hour.

Since some 200 workers walked off their jobs at fast-food restaurants in New York City in November, the strikes have moved across the country, drawing attention to a fast-growing segment of the workforce that until recently had shown no inclination to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining.

The planned August walkout — timed for the aftermath of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the lead-up to Labor Day — is expected to touch 35 or more cities and involve thousands of workers, organizers said. The walkouts have not led to widespread changes, though some workers say they have gotten small pay increases and better hours.

‘‘The top executives in these companies make huge salaries and the corporations make record profits every year,’’ said Terrance Wise, 34, a father of three who earns $9.30 an hour at Burger King in Kansas City. He has a second job at Pizza Hut that pays $7.47 an hour. ‘‘How about them cutting a little off the top? CEOs are taking home millions, and many workers are struggling.’’

Wise said he has looked for better-paying work but has had no luck. ‘‘The options aren’t as plentiful as people think.’’

Wise, who has been working with Kansas City organizers since January and has participated in one walkout, says he has helped sign up scores of workers who plan to join the nationwide job action.

Willietta Dukes, 39, a mother of two in Durham, N.C., plans to walk off her job at Burger King. After 15 years, she still earns a poverty-level wage. She said her highest salary has been $8.65 an hour, and she rarely is scheduled for a 40-hour week.

“I think it is high time that I did something,’’ Dukes said. ‘‘I work hard. I don’t sit around. I am good at what I do. Yet after working all day, I do not earn enough to even pay for the basics.”

Fast-food workers are expected to be joined by retail workers from stores such as Macy’s, Dollar Tree, and Sears. Many of them said they have received pledges of support on Facebook and the websites of local organizing groups.

Although he has not commented on the fast-food walkouts, President Obama has called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 a hour, from $7.25. The idea has broad support from voters, but opponents say it would hurt job creation. A recent Public Religion Research Institute survey found that nearly three of four Americans favored raising the minimum wage to $10.

The fledgling movement, which has been aided by the Service Employees International Union and other labor groups, as well as religious groups, argues that many fast-food and retail workers are forced to rely on government aid, even as fast-food corporations rake in $200 billion a year in revenues.

Moreover, organizers say, most fast-food workers are adults relying on the jobs to support themselves and their families, not teenagers looking to earn pocket money. The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group, says roughly eight of 10 workers in the country earning minimum wage are 20 or older, and half of them work 40 hours a week.

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