Fast-food workers seeking higher wages plan another strike
NEW YORK — The next round of strikes by fast-food workers demanding higher wages is scheduled for Thursday, and this time, labor organizers plan to increase the pressure by staging widespread civil disobedience and having thousands of home-care workers join the protests.
The organizers say fast-food workers, who are seeking a $15 hourly wage, will go on strike at restaurants in more than 100 cities and engage in sit-ins in more than a dozen cities. But by having home-care workers join, workers and union leaders hope to expand their campaign into a broader movement.
“On Thursday, we are prepared to take arrests to show our commitment to the growing fight for $15,” said Terrence Hays, a Burger King employee in Kansas City, Mo., and a member of the fast-food workers’ national organizing committee. At a convention that was held outside Chicago in July, about 1,300 fast-food workers unanimously approved a resolution calling for civil disobedience as a way to step up pressure on the fast-food chains.
“They’re going to use nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to call attention to what they’re facing,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has spent millions of dollars helping to underwrite the campaign. “They’re invoking civil rights history to make the case that these jobs ought to be paid $15 and the companies ought to recognize a union.”
Fast-food chains and many franchise operators have said that $15 an hour is unrealistic and would wipe out profit margins at many restaurants. Some business groups have attacked the campaign as an attempt by a fading union movement to rally a new group of workers.
Some franchise operators have dismissed the walkout, saying that in previous one-day strikes, only a handful of employees at their restaurants walked out. But organizers say that workers walked out at restaurants in 150 cities nationwide during the last one-day strike, in May, closing several of them for part of the day, with solidarity protests held in 30 countries.
The SEIU, which represents hundreds of thousands of health care workers and janitors, is encouraging home-care aides to march alongside the fast-food strikers. The union hopes that if thousands of the nation’s approximately 2 million home-care aides join in it would put more pressure on cities and states to raise their minimum wage.
“They want to join,” Henry said. “They think their jobs should be valued at $15.”
SEIU officials are encouraging home-care aides to join protests in six cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Seattle. Union leaders say the hope is to expand to more cities in future strikes.
Jasmine Almodovar, who earns $9.50 an hour as a home-care aide in Cleveland, said the $350 she took home weekly was barely enough to support herself and her 11-year-old daughter. “I work very hard — I’m underpaid,” she said. “We deserve a good life, too. We want to provide a nice future to our kids, but how can you provide a good life, how can you plan for the future, when you’re scraping by day to day?”
Within the SEIU, there has been some grumbling about why the union has spent millions of dollars to back fast-food workers when they are not in the industries the union has traditionally represented. But Henry defended the strategy, saying it has helped persuade many people that $15 is a credible wage floor. She said it prompted Seattle to adopt a $15 minimum wage and helped persuade the Los Angeles school district to sign a contract for 20,000 cafeteria and other service workers that will raise their pay, now often $8 or $9 an hour, to $15 by 2016.
“This movement has made the impossible seem more possible in people’s minds,” Henry said. “The home-care workers’ joining will have a huge lift inside our union.”