Fast-food workers uniting to strike on Aug. 29

Among their demands is a $15 per hour minimum wage. Retail workers will also likely join in.

By Jonathan Berr Aug 20, 2013 4:08PM
An employee pours a soft drink at a Wendy's on April 5, 2013 (© Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images)McDonald's (MCD), Burger King (BKW),  Wendy's (WEN) and their rivals can sell food inexpensively because they pay their workers low wages. That unpleasant economic reality will confront diners in eight cities later this month during a work stoppage organized by a coalition of unions and community groups.

The strike, organized to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for civil rights and Labor Day, is designed to raise awareness of the plight of workers in fast food and other low-wage industries such as retail. It's scheduled for Aug. 29. Among the workers' demands are a $15 per hour minimum wage and the right to form a union.

Historically, fast-food workers have been teenagers, but that's no longer the case. The average age for these employees tops 28. Many of them have families and are forced to work two jobs to make ends meet.

"Fast food is a $200 billion a year industry and retail is a $4.7 trillion industry, yet many service workers across the country earn minimum wage or just above it and are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get health care for their children," according to the AFL-CIO's website.

The National Restaurant Association, which says it welcomes a debate on fair wages, argues in a statement to MSN moneyNOW that protestors are unfairly signaling out its industry.

"In fact, only 5 percent of restaurant employees earn the minimum wage and those who do are predominantly teenagers who are working part-time jobs," says Angelo Amador, the association's vice president of Labor & Workforce Policy, echoing criticisms made by others such as the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Supporters of raising the minimum wage dispute this characterization. According to the liberal Economic Policy Research Institute, 80% of the workers who benefited from a hike in the wage in eight states last year were at least 20 years old.

Willietta Dukes, 39, of Durham, N.C., a mother of two, told The Washington Post she plans to walk off her job at Burger King on Aug. 29. Her highest salary after working for 15 years in the industry is $8.65 per hour. Rarely is she scheduled for a 40-hour week.

"I am good at what I do," she told the paper. "Yet after working all day, I do not earn enough to even pay for the basics. I don't want to be in poverty forever."

As MSN moneyNOW's Aimee Picchi noted on Tuesday, strategists at trading firm ConvergEx  estimate it takes U.S. low-wage workers 34 minutes to earn enough to buy a Big Mac, about the middle of the pack of the countries they studied. Interestingly, McDonald's workers in Australia need to work for only 18 minutes to afford the burger because the minimum wage there is $A15 per hour ($13.64).

Employees at retail chains such as Macy's (M), Dollar Tree (DLTR) and Sears (SHLD) are also expected to participate in the job action, which is being organized through social media, according to The Post. 

President Obama has called for the minimum wage to be raised to $9 per hour from $7.25, which is slightly ahead of the $8.69 per hour median wage paid fast food employees. Industry groups have argued they can't afford to pay $15 an hour and sustain their businesses.

Whether the coming job action will lead to higher wages is hard to say. But the organizers have scored one success already: People are now at least thinking about the cold economic facts behind their cheap, hot meals.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Aug 20, 2013 4:26PM
We all make choices in life and thank God we live in a country where we are free to do so.  But with freedom comes responsibility, and not enough people are taking responsibility for their bad choices.

If I owned a fast food joint and any of my employees walked out, I'd fire them on the spot and get someone else to replace them.

Aug 20, 2013 4:31PM
And when people like Willietta Dukes of Durham, N.C, walk off their job and get fired, the next place you will see her is on the news, crying like a victim because she choose to walk off her job.  Working 15 years flipping burgers is her fault. She could have changed jobs long before the bottom dropped out.  She could have gotten a loan and went to nursing school, for example, and been a nurse for the last 10 years at least.   She been flipping burgers since 1998 and have not done one thing to get a better life.  FLIPPING BURGERS FOR 15 YEARS PEOPLE.  Get real. 
Aug 20, 2013 4:28PM
Want to make more money? Learn a skill, trade, or get educated like the rest of us did. Whining is not a quality that gets you very far. If you have a family and can't afford it, why are you working a minimum wage job? Sounds like very poor decision making to me.
Aug 20, 2013 4:44PM
This is alarming. Think of the challenge our country would face retraining the nation's entire fast food workforce. That could take an entire weekend.
Aug 20, 2013 4:37PM
Gonna be a lot of new jobs available on Aug. 29th.
Aug 20, 2013 4:15PM

Minor correction: "yet many service workers across the country earn minimum wage or just above it and CHOOSE to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get health care for their children"


Ahhh, much better. After all, nobody is holding a gun to their head making them work at a fast food establishment, or preventing them from seeking a better job with a higher wage...

Aug 20, 2013 4:33PM
Democrats see minimum wage jobs as a career path, Republicans view them as motivation to better themselves. I wonder why democrats are so dependent on government? Environment or genetics?
Aug 20, 2013 4:32PM
Why do democrats look at minimum wage jobs as a career choice? Is that all they will ever be qualified for?
Aug 20, 2013 4:35PM

Maybe these folks should spend their free time developing professional skill & continuing education rather than stand around in the street demanding higher wages for a job that technology will automate in the near future.   

Aug 20, 2013 4:54PM
I hope they realize they won't get unemployment after they get fired for job abandonment.
Aug 20, 2013 4:39PM
That's What the job pays, if you done like it don't let the door hit you in the **** on the way out, find something else it a free country.
Aug 20, 2013 4:47PM
They will all be replaced the next day.
Aug 20, 2013 4:47PM

This is crazy, you can go to college get multiple degrees and barley make over 15 a hour! Seriously get your butt out there and find a better job for you and your family. Like are you kidding me fast food all they want to do is give you sloppy, greasy food with “FAST” service come on that’s a joke on top of it I never get out of there with the right food and that’s with a simple order. I disagree with these people on strike. Better your life and this won’t be a problem. So annoying!!

Aug 20, 2013 4:46PM

if you don't like your minimum wage job than go out there and look for a better paying job, they are out there you just need to dedicate some time. Instead of being lazy and complain.

Most people start at minimum wage and then they move up !!!

Aug 20, 2013 4:52PM

As the entitlement train rolls along

Aug 20, 2013 4:47PM
HAHA!!!!  Good luck!  They think they are irreplaceable when they have skills that basically everyone has.  If you want a higher wage, WORK for it.  You get promotions or raises.  Or get a skill set that makes you special and marketable.  These people are not.  They can and will be replaced if they keep it up.  I could also care less as I don't eat fast food anyway.  They also clearly never took an economics class.  If they had or had paid attention, they would realize that they pay a higher proportion of their incomes toward necessities, and that the rise in prices due to their demands will hurt them the most.  Boy, I'm glad I started working at 15 and haven't made minimum wage since I was 16.  If you're 40 and still making that much money, the problem is clearly you.

If you are trying to raise a family while working at Wendy's, you need to switch jobs.  There are many better paying jobs out there for those willing to learn a new skill and work hard.  Fast food is low pay because it's low skill.  You push a button labelled "Double Quarter Pounder" for 8 hours.  That's not hard, skill wise. 

In the time these workers spent striking, they could have learned a new profession that pays above $7.15 per hour they make now. 

Aug 20, 2013 4:54PM

BUT... fast food positions are entry level jobs. These positions require no education and no prior experience. People with bachelor's degrees don't necessarily start a position in their career field at $15.00 an hour! Pay is usually reflective of education level, experience, tenure, etc. - NOT "minimum wage isn't enough to live on so please pay us more." We all know minimum wage isn't enough to live on. But is it really fair to pay an entry level position that much above minimum wage when positions requiring experience and education do not start out that high?


I just received my bachelor's degree in accounting last year and the position I found only started at $10.00 an hour. Pay is not high in my area and this is actually considered a decent starting wage. But I will tell you - if fast food workers were to get paid $15 bucks an hour around here, I'd be livid! Why did I bother racking up a huge debt for a degree to better myself when I could have just flipped burgers for good pay?

Aug 20, 2013 5:42PM

"Willietta Dukes, 39, of Durham, N.C., a mother of two, told she plans to walk off her job at Burger King on Aug. 29. Her highest salary after working for 15 years in the industry is $8.65 per hour. Rarely is she scheduled for a 40-hour week."


15 years?  This statement says it all. . .

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