Fast food workers go on strike for $15 per hour

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by TERESA YUAN / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 9:19 AM

Updated Thursday, May 15 at 1:22 PM

SEATTLE - Activists and fast food workers in Seattle joined a global movement Thursday by going on strike and demanding corporations raise the minimum wage to $15-per-hour.

The group 15 Now also launched it's signature-gathering campaign to put a charter amendment on the ballot, asking Seattle voters to raise the minimum wage sooner than under Mayor Ed Murray's recent proposal.

The global day of action was planned across 33 countries and more than 150 U.S. cities.

The group of about 60 activists with Working Washington in Seattle walked from Cal Anderson Park to the IHOP restaurant on Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood where they demonstrated and joined a couple of IHOP workers who walked off the job.

“It’s important. It’s worth not getting paid today. I make minimum wage $9.32 an hour and I have two kids. It’s tough,” said Larkin Potts.

The group plans to visit various fast food restaurants and establishments where they’ll meet up with striking workers. Their final destination is a large rally at Westlake Park at 4:00 p.m.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was the first to sign the 15 Now petition Thursday. She said Murray's proposal this month to raise the minimum wage over the next several years is a step forward, but doesn't move fast enough.

"I'm putting forward amendments to the Mayor's proposal to close these corporate loopholes but if the majority of the City Council sides with big business we have the back-up option of letting the voters decide in November," said Sawant.

Strike goes nationwide

NEW YORK — Hundreds of fast food workers walked off their jobs in dozens of U.S. cities on Thursday -- reportedly forcing at least a few locations to temporarily close or re-staff while mostly managers filled-in -- as sympathetic protesters in several dozen countries joined in a united call for wages of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

No violence was reported early Thursday. Restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC are being targeted. The strike, targeting the $200 billion fast-food industry at a time of intense competition, is aimed at directing consumer attention to the low wages of most fast-food workers. The one-day campaign continues protests launched 18 months ago.

Strikers claim that managers opted to briefly close down a Burger King in Dorchester, Mass, where a some workers were striking, but Burger King spokesman Alix Salyers insists that store was never closed. While McDonald's officials insist that no McDonald's restaurants have been closed anywhere due to the strike, protesters insist that several have.

In New York City, dozens of workers stood outside a McDonald's nearby Penn Station demanding higher wages and the right to form a union. Protesters partially blocked some entrances to the restaurant where they stalled, but did not halt, sales.

Naquasia LeGrand, 22, of Brooklyn, says this was her sixth strike since 2012. She has worked as a cashier at Kentucky Fried Chicken for three years in Park Slope, an affluent neighborhood in Brooklyn. She makes $8 an hour and pays $1,300 a month for her apartment. She says fast food workers all over are struggling to survive. "We live in New York City--a multi-billion dollar city," she said. "These corporations are taking everything from us. They are making all this money. It's only right that we (workers) come together."

Dijon Thornton, 22, a cashier, has worked at a Wendy's in Harlem for the last year and a half. On Thursday morning, he walked out of work as the store was readying to serve breakfast. For him, the decision was about asking for respect, in the form of better pay. He says that paying him $8 an hour is like "spitting in my face."

The strike's organizer says that the fast-food giants have the money to pay reasonable wages. "At the end of the day, there is more than enough money to pay these workers $15 an hour," says Kendall Fells, the 34-year-old organizer of Fast Food Forward, who marched with protesters in New York on Thursday. Two-thirds of the the workers are women -- and most of them have children, he says. "They're just trying to support their families and makes ends meet."

Fast Food Forward is financed by Service Employees International Union, a union group with more than two million members.

In Europe, Lorenz Keller, who works for the Swiss trade union Unia, said that members from his group were protesting outside several McDonald's branches in Zurich and would soon start actions in Geneva.

Banner-waving activists in New Zealand were the first to hit the streets Thursday, as they protested outside a McDonald's in Auckland.

In the Philippines,young protesters held a singing and dancing flash mob inside a McDonald's on Manila's Quezon Avenue during the morning rush-hour.

In Japan, where protests were planned in 30 cities, co-organizer Manabu Natori failed to find a Ronald costume in time, but was encouraged by the public response to a protest for a higher minimum wage, held outside a downtown Tokyo McDonald's.

"We do this kind of demonstration every month, but there was a huge difference today as people don't walk by but stop to listen," said Natori, 41, a staff member of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, a left-wing labor federation.

About 80% of McDonald's global restaurants are independently owned and operated by small business owners, said Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, a McDonald's spokeswoman, in a statement. "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 and scheduled to work their regular shifts."

One U.S. Chamber of Commerce official says the protest is a sham. "These union-produced, made-for-media protests have repeatedly failed to gain support from more than a handful of actual workers," said vice president Glenn Spencer, in a statement.

For workers and organizers of the strike, the media attention on a global basis is huge.

"The Occupy Movement is not dead," says Witold Henisz, management professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "I'm forecasting a period of tension and political activism over what's fair and what's right."

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