Fast Food’s Latest, Largest Picket Line

Workers are walking off the job in seven cities today.

fast food strikes

The Court St. McDonald's in Brooklyn. (Photo: Fast Food Forward/Twitter)

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor. He has written for The Awl, The New Inquiry, and elsewhere.

A photo of a New York McDonald’s was just posted to Twitter by Fast Food Forward, one of the non-union organizations behind the growing wave of strikes at chain restaurants over the past nine months. Just below the familiar red awning with its golden arches is a promotional banner for the latest round of the fast-food giant’s Monopoly sweepstakes. Hanging above the heads of the crowd gathered in front of the Brooklyn location, where workers have walked off the job today, the sign reads “IT’S ON.”

And indeed it IS—but not in the way the sweepstakes or the capitalistic board game intended: Workers from various fast-food chains are striking in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Flint, MI, making today the largest such labor action in American history. Following controversy over McDonald’s “financial advice” to employees, an opinion piece by Mark Bittman in the New York Times, and a damning report by the National Employment Law Project, today’s strike is not only the largest in number, but may very well be the most squarely positioned within the zeitgeist. The conversation about the societal ills of fast food are shifting away from calories and fat and is increasingly focused on labor.

With more than half of jobs that pay between $15 to $20 per hour killed by the Great Recession, a larger pool of older workers—people with families and economic responsibilities that outweigh those of the clichéd burger-flipping high-school kid—are looking for jobs in the $170 billion fast-food industry. But the grand majority of employees—89.1 percent, according to the NELP report—earn a median hourly wage of just $8.94.

Writing for Salon, Josh Eidelson reports on the new wave of strikes and the worker’s demands for a starting wage of $15 per hour and the opportunity to form a union without retaliation.

“I know you’re tired of suffering,” KFC employee Naquasia LeGrand told fellow workers gathered with clergy and politicians at a rally last Wednesday announcing that New York City worker-activists had voted to strike this week. “I don’t want to see the next generation suffering and suffering. I don’t want my kids suffering. I want to make sure they have a better future than I do.” Looking out on a crowd of about 150 at the entrance to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, LeGrand added, “So if I want that to happen, I need you guys to stand with me just as long as I’m standing with you.”

Eidelson also spoke to Domino’s vice president Tim McIntyre about the growing labor movement. Citing upward mobility, McInteyre said, “We don’t believe unions are necessary for our brand…”

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