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Fast food workers go on strike

Fast food workers on the picket line.

Fast food workers on the picket line.

NEW YORK Fast-food workers across the United States were expected to stage their largest strike to date today in an almost year-long campaign to raise wages in the service sector.

Employees of McDonald’s Corp, Wendy’s Restaurants LLC, Burger King Worldwide Inc and others have pledged to walk off their jobs in 50 cities from Boston, Mass, to Alameda, Calif., organisers say. They are expected to be joined by retail employees at stores owned by Macy’s Inc, Sears Holdings Corp and Dollar Tree Inc in some cities.

The strike follows a similar protest last November, when some 200 workers walked off their fast-food jobs in New York City. Groups in Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit and other cities followed their lead in April and July.

The workers want to form unions and bargain higher wages with their employers without facing retaliation from franchisees or their parent companies. They are demanding $15 an hour, up from $7.25, which is the current federal minimum wage.

The median wage for front-line fast-food workers is $8.94 per hour, according to an analysis of government data by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for lower-wage workers. Virtually all private-sector fast-food jobs are non-union, and organisers say retaliation against workers who try to organise is common.

Martin Rafanan, a community organiser in St. Louis, Missouri, where the minimum wage is $7.35, said local employees of McDonald’s and Wendy’s were inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement’s discussions about income inequality. But he added that the main reason for their frustration is financial.

“If you’re paying $7.35 an hour and employing someone for 20, 25 hours a week, which is the average here, they’re bringing home about $10,000 a year. You can’t survive on that.” Rafanan said.

“Unless we can figure out how to make highly profitable companies pay a fair wage to their workers, we’re just going to watch them pull all the blood, sweat, tears and money out of our communities.”

The National Restaurant Association, the trade group for US restaurants and fast-food chains, said in a statement that the restaurant industry provides 13 million Americans with jobs and that discussions about wages “should be based on facts”.

“Only five per cent of restaurant employees earn the minimum wage and those that do are predominantly working part-time and half are teenagers,” said Scott DeFife, the organisation’s executive vice president of policy and government affairs. (Reuters)

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