Across the United States, thousands of workers of the fast food chain McDonald’s took part in a one day strike action on May 19. The strike was called as part of the National Day of Action for $15/hr by the Fight for 15 campaign to protest what are deemed as “poverty wages.” Employees from different cities across the country have signed up for the strike, including in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Kansas City, St Louis, Raleigh-Durham, Charleston, Houston and Milwaukee.
The one-day strike scheduled for the eve of the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting scheduled for May 20. A major picket and demonstration took place outside the McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago. According to the campaign, McDonald’s made a profit of USD 5 billion in 2020 even as the US was reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. The campaign and the workers have raised objections to the fact that despite such an impressive performance, the company has not committed to a living wage for its workers.
Led by 32 BJ SEIU, the Branford, CT rally was held in support of workers who have been organizing at rest stops all along the I-95 Connecticut corridor for a year and a half. Last year, $900,000 in back wages and pay was won from the franchise in Darien as part of a settlement with the state Department of Labor, which investigated the store for violations of the Standard Wage Law
“Last year, in the middle of a global pandemic, McDonald’s made $5 billion and gave billions to its shareholders – all while workers like me risked our lives to keep stores running for less than USD 15 per hour. I can’t afford to wait any longer for a raise,” said Hakim Dumkia, a worker in St. Louis.
Workers’ groups have found that an average worker at a McDonald’s store currently earns around USD 7.25 per hour. Last month, the company had hinted at a limited wage hike, but the details of the offer are yet to be divulged.
McDonald’s workers have also demanded that the company withdraw from membership of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the International Franchise Association (IFA), which have been at the forefront of lobbying against changes to federal minimum wage laws.
At a time when retail and fast-food sectors in the US are facing major labor shortages, the strike will add more pressure on corporate chains that refuse to pay living wages to their employees. Trade unions blame the abysmally low wages and unsafe working conditions as the reason behind low applicants and the labor shortage.
Major chains like McDonald’s, Dollar General, Wendy’s, 7-Eleven and Walmart, among others, have reported a major shortage of workers. Several of these companies have received little to no response to their calls for applications to fill up vacancies. Some have even tried attracting applicants with free lunches or monetary incentives. However, they have fallen short of offering better wages for their job postings.
Fight for 15 has repeatedly asserted that hiking wages without waiting for government intervention can help resolve the shortage. Workers’ groups have also pushed back against the right-wing and conservative narrative which blames the federal unemployment assistance and pandemic stimulus checks as the reason for the labor shortage.
Local demands of McDonald’s and other Connecticut Service Plaza workers include the right to join a union without interference from management; an end to managerial mistreatment of union supporters, including cutting workers’ hours or refusing to recall them; PPE for all workers, with clear disinfection and notification procedures in case of COVID-19 outbreaks, and clearly outlined benefits that allow workers to use sick days and personal time.