Today, tens of thousands of Walmart workers, fast-food, retail and other low-wage workers are engaged in a massive, nationwide strike in their fight for $15 an hour, consistent full-time hours and the right to join a union.
Lisa Pietro, a two-year Walmart employee from Winter Haven, Fla., who made just $8.95 an hour before Walmart’s recent increase to a minimum of $9 an hour, said:
I’m proud to be part of a growing movement of moms and dads, brothers and sisters like me, who are standing up for better jobs. A company like Walmart, which brings in $16 billion in annual profits, can afford to provide the pay and hours that our families need. The raise we just won at Walmart shows what working people can accomplish when we stand together.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:
The voices of Walmart and fast-food workers have shown the power of collective action in standing up to corporate greed and a system that for far too long has only benefited those at the very top.
Since the Black Friday Walmart strikes and the fast-food workers strikes began more than two years ago, the movement for $15 an hour, full-time work and consistent scheduling has grown to include retail workers, home care providers, airport workers, adjunct professors and more and gained support around the globe.
The growing voice of the workers and support from their communities and many lawmakers has pressured employers like Walmart, McDonald’s and others to raise wages some but not nearly close to $15. Said Trumka:
While some wages have been raised, there is much work to be done, and workers will continue to speak out until wages are fair, conditions are improved and every voice is heard in the workplace.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) was among numerous people arrested as fast food workers and their supporters rallied in more than 150 cities on Thursday. Thousands of workers walked out of restaurants and picked up picket signs, demanding that big restaurant chains pay them a living wage of $15-per-hour. Home care workers also participated in the strikes. Moore was arrested in West Milwaukee, Wis., and other arrests were made in New York City, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere.
“I take great pride in supporting Milwaukee workers as they risk arrest in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow for their families,” Moore said in a statement. “I’ve read their letters, I’ve heard their calls and I’ve listened to their stories. I understand their struggle, but more importantly, I see their drive to fight for a future that is equal to their talents and worthy of their dreams.”
Working families everywhere applaud the courage of the fast-food workers who are striking today and engaging in acts of civil disobedience in over 150 cities. And we applaud the unity and the collective spirit displayed by members of AFL-CIO state federations and labor councils who have joined today’s protests in solidarity.
This nation was built on the fundamental beliefs that work should be a gateway to the middle class, and that no job should ever trap someone in poverty. That’s why the “Fight for Fifteen” movement is surging and the protests are getting ever louder. It’s time for corporations to hear this resounding message: Every worker deserves a fair wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. We support them.
Kendall Fells, organizing director for Fast Food Forward, explained why protesters were willing to take arrest:
There has to be civil disobedience because workers don’t see any other way to get $15 an hour and a union. There’s a long history of this, from the civil rights movement to the farm workers movement.
While it certainly seems that far-right extremists are waging an all-out war on working families and their rights, workers aren’t just defending themselves; they are fighting to expand their rights and achieving some significant gains. Here are 12 recent victories we should celebrate while continuing to push for even more wins.
2. Tennessee Auto Workers to Create New Local Union at VW Plant: Auto workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., announced the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local that will give workers an increased voice in the operation of the German carmaker’s U.S. facility. UAW organizers continue to gain momentum, as the union has the support of nearly half of the plant’s 1,500 workers, which would make the union the facility’s exclusive collective bargaining agent.
3. California Casino Workers Organize: Workers at the new Graton Resort & Casino voted to join UNITE HERE Local 2850 of Oakland, providing job security for 600 gambling, maintenance, and food and beverage workers.
9. Fast-Food Workers Win in New NLRB Ruling: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s could be held jointly responsible with its franchisees for labor violations and wage disputes. The NLRB ruling makes it easier for workers to organize individual McDonald’s locations, and could result in better pay and conditions for workers.
It’s pretty frustrating seeing all the headlines that claim the economy is alive and kicking. Sure, there is economic growth and a steady increase in jobs, but what kind of jobs are we talking about exactly?
Covert emphasizes the need for “ways to reconnect hard work and decent pay” that “hand employees more power so they can ask for more.” What does she have in mind?
Making it easier for workers to unionize and demand better pay;
Aiming for full employment, so all people who want a job can have one for as many hours as they need;
Urging the Federal Reserve to be more concerned about unemployment than inflation;
Following the German model of putting workers on corporate boards, so firms are not used as piggy banks to pump money out to shareholders;
Providing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers; and
Raising the minimum wage.
Covert discusses more than just minimum wage workers and the fast-food industry, she points out other issues, including wage theft, the uphill battle for workers trying to form unions, NFL cheerleaders getting paid what sometimes amounts to $2 an hour, unscrupulous employers exploiting immigrant workers and more.
Early last week the Internet was abuzz with a new, but clever concept called the “bad boss tax.”
Conceptualized by TakeAction Minnesota, the bad boss tax would impose a fine on billion-dollar corporations with employees that rely on government assistance.
While the future of the bad boss tax is uncertain, the number of employers paying wages so low that they inadvertently shift the financial burden to taxpayers is extensive.
Below, we’ve compiled the top three “Bad Bosses” below.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fast food workers, on average, make about $18,880 a year. According to the living wage calculator, that’s barely enough to keep one person from poverty, let alone a family.
What’s more, many McDonald’s workers report to only making the minimum wage, as low as $7.25. That number, compared to the CEO’s $13.8 million compensation is one of the many reasons why McDonald’s landed on the list.
Worker pay at the Golden Arches, due in part to franchising, is varied. But one thing is for sure, across the board employees are fed up. Yesterday the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that McDonald’s could be accountable for the string of low wage lawsuits that it’s been slammed with in the past year.
Perhaps as a direct result, it was recently reported that Walmart’s low wages are costing taxpayers nearly $6.2 billion for public assistance services such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing. That means that one of America’s most profitable businesses relies on taxpayers to support their employees.
A class-action lawsuit has been filed against McDonald’s and the company’s franchisees in three states, alleging various forms of wage theft at restaurants in California, Michigan and New York, Salon’s Josh Eidelson reports. Among the accusations are stores not paying properly for overtime hours, workers being required to clean uniforms off the clock and employees being required to show up for work, but not allowed to clock in when business is slow.
Eidelson argues that one of the key aspects of the lawsuit is that it will shine a light on how heavy a role the corporation plays in the running of franchise restaurants it doesn’t own:
The most significant threat posed by the potential class actions—one apparent arm in a campaign of media, consumer, political, economic and workplace pressure on fast food giants—may be its potential to draw scrutiny and force disclosures about the relationship between the giant McDonald’s corporation, which netted over $5 billionin profit last year, and its smaller individual franchisees, which are the legal employers of most McDonald’s workers.
While 11.3% of U.S. workers officially belong to unions, the labor movement is much larger. The movement isn’t limited to official union members and the last year showed that, as workers marched side by side, union members or not, to fight back against injustices championed by corporate interests that are out of touch with America’s working families. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at the federation’s constitutional convention in Los Angeles, “Politicians and employers want to divide us; they try it every single day. They want to tell us who can be in our movement and who can’t, and we can’t let them.”
An article at The American Prospect describes the trend of new ways workers are standing up for their rights:
Those government union membership statistics, however, don’t capture an entire swath of new, exciting and emerging labor activists—’alt-labor’ activists—whom alarmed employers would like to see regulated by the same laws that apply to unions. Yet, before we regulate them as unions, shouldn’t we first count them as unions?
Who isn’t being counted in those official numbers? A lot of people:
Striking fast-food workers who are calling for a $15-an-hour wage.
Walmart workers who went on strike for Black Friday.
Day laborers who have joined one of hundreds of workers’ centers nationwide.
Restaurant workers, home health care workers, taxi drivers and domestic workers organizing for workplace power outside traditional unions.
Millions of members of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.
These numbers also don’t count people like the college athletes who are seeking to unionize and the many workers who are trying to form unions but are thwarted by employers or weakened labor law.
Some of the extremists opposed to these groups want them limited in their ability to organize, while not wanting to count them in the official numbers, so labor looks weaker. As the Prospect notes:
However, in a 21st century economy in which collective bargaining has been so severely weakened by structural changes and the roll back in workers’ rights, these new labor activists represent an important frontier for people concerned about worker power and economic inequality writ large. You know that workers are on to something when employers start to get nervous. It turns out the low union membership statistics may not be as good a measure of labor’s future as employers would hope.
And the reality behind those official statistics, and the rise of alt-labor, should be heartening to supporters of working families.
In a joint Op-Ed for CNN, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and National Employment Law Project Executive Director Christine Owens remind us that in the past 15 years, all wage increases have gone to the wealthiest 10%.
Trumka and Owens write:
If the minimum wage had just kept pace with inflation since 1968, it would be $10.77 an hour today instead of $7.25. For tipped workers, the rate’s been stuck at a scandalous $2.13 for 20 years.
Congress is considering a proposal, called the Fair Minimum Wage Act, from Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. George Miller of California, supported by President Barack Obama. The act would raise the minimum wage over two years to $10.10 an hour and let it grow with inflation.
The Senate is expected to consider the proposal the week after Thanksgiving.
McDonald’s can’t say it doesn’t know it pays its workers so little that many of them qualify for public assistance (52% of fast-food workers do) to eat, go to the doctor or heat their homes. In fact, the burger giant appears to encourage its employees to seek out government help to meet the ends that their paychecks won’t.
The people who staff the company’s “McResource” help hotline for employees are so well-versed in the needs of workers who make poverty-level wages, they seem to have information on how and where to apply for food stamps, Medicaid and other programs for the poor right at their fingertips.
Read more from Salon’s Josh Eidelson who writes about the phone call Nancy Salgado, a 10-year employee in Illinois making the state’s minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, made to the McResources line, and then take a look at this video with excerpts from that call for help.
BTW, according to National Employment Law Project, the government spends about $7 billion a year on public assistance for fast-food workers like Salgado. Those are our tax dollars at work, not fast food’s, which makes $7.4 billion in profits. As the video points out:
McDonalds doesn’t want to pay its workers more. It wants you to pay its workers more.
In addition to short-changing employees and customers, the cheapness of the fast-food industry, which nationally pays its core workers an average of $8.69, leaves taxpayers paying nearly $7 billion annually. That’s the major conclusion of a new report, Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast-Food Industry, from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The majority of employees at fast-food restaurants are paid so poorly that they are forced to enroll in public assistance programs, despite the industry making $200 billion a year.
“The taxpayer costs we discovered were staggering,” says Ken Jacobs, chair of UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education and co-author of the report. “People who work in fast-food jobs are paid so little that having to rely on public assistance is the rule, rather than the exception, even for those working 40 hours or more a week.”
Only 28% of core fast-food workers work 40 or more hours per week, compared to 75% of the overall workforce. Unlike the common stereotype of fast-food workers, the report shows more than two-thirds of the industry’s core workers are older than 20, 68% are the primary wage earners in their families and more than 25% of them are parents.
“This report shows in stark numbers the larger economic consequences that result from low wages and how it affects all of us, says Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “In a nation as wealthy as the United States, no one who works hard for a living should live in poverty. Underpaying workers affects us all. These highly profitable companies paying poverty wages should raise wages and listen to their workers’ demands to form a union. We should also increase the minimum wage, as I have proposed. These steps are not only the right thing to do for low-wage workers, but also the smart thing to do for the economy and for taxpayers.”
Fast-food workers receive money from numerous federal programs—receiving benefits at twice the overall rate of the workforce—and the $7 billion total doesn’t include state and local programs. The top federal expenditures on fast-food workers are:
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, $3.9 billion per year;
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, $1.04 billion per year; and
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, $82 million per year.
“It just doesn’t make sense that we prepare and cook food for people every day, but instead of being paid enough to feed our own families, many of us can’t afford three meals every day,” says Devonte Yates, a McDonald’s worker in Milwaukee who earns $7.25 an hour. “I don’t want to be on food stamps. I’d rather stand on my own two feet. McDonald’s should raise wages so we can afford decent food for ourselves.”
The report was funded by Fast Food Forward, a New York City-based coalition of workers and labor, religious and community groups. Read the full report from UC Berkeley.
A separate report from the National Employment Law Project looks more closely at the top 10 biggest fast-food companies and finds that they alone are responsible for 60% of the nearly $7 billion in public costs associated with their low wages, despite having more than $7.4 billion in profits last year. McDonald’s workers alone account for $1.2 billion of public assistance spending each year.