Gloria Steinem Joins the Fight for 15: Fast-Food Wages Are a Feminist Cause

The legendary women’s rights activist is campaigning at the next great American battlefront: McDonald’s.

(Photos: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images; Flickr)

Jun 8, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Last month, Gloria Steinem crossed the heavily armed border between North and South Korea in a push to end decades of enmity between the two countries. Now, on the front lines of a quiet battle at home, Steinem is attempting to bridge the divide between workers and employers at fast-food restaurants.

The feminist leader and antiwar activist is rallying in support of a New York state wage board that is investigating a proposal to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15 an hour, nearly double the current minimum wage of $8.75, the New York Daily News reported. Her call to action comes just a day after Hillary Clinton announced the wage hike as a key issue in her presidential campaign.

“Let’s be on the right side of history—and both sides of the counter, worker and customer—by raising wages for all fast-food workers across New York state,” Steinem told reporters on Monday. She framed the labor issue as one largely affecting women, who make up the majority of fast-food workers: “In a low-wage industry where women—including working mothers who are one step away from the safety net—are overrepresented, a fair income is a must.”

Working mothers aren’t the only ones busting the stereotype that fast-food workers are high school students making extra cash flipping burgers after school. The average age of a fast-food worker is 29, with more than a quarter raising kids, according to the National Employment Law Project. About 40 percent of fast-food workers are 25 and older, and nearly a third have enrolled in college courses. Many are people like Nancy Salgado, a 27-year-old single mother of two who participated in a McDonald’s walkout in Chicago last summer in support of a $15 minimum wage hike, Ms. magazine reported.

Clinton wants to give Americans like Salgado—who is among the country’s 4 million fast-food workers—a more livable salary. Phoning in to an industry convention in Detroit on Sunday, the Democratic presidential candidate urged fast-food workers to keep up their fight for a $15 wage. “I want to be your champion,” she told a crowd of more than 1,300 who had gathered in support of the Fight for 15 wage-hike movement. “I want to fight with you every day. I’m well aware that the folks on top already have plenty of friends in Washington, but we together will change the direction of this great country.” (Steinem has publicly supported Clinton in her bid for president, despite saying that she thought a woman didn’t have a chance to win in 2008. She has since changed her tune for 2016.)

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While fast-food workers have long pushed for a $15 wage base and for the right to unionize—President Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 died in Congress in 2013—the issue has only recently made it to the ballots, and it has won the vote in cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Seattle became the first to pass legislation last year that would gradually raise its minimum wage to $15, and San Francisco followed several months later, with Los Angeles set to make a second vote on Wednesday to pass a similar initiative.

Many business owners oppose a wage hike, citing increased operating costs that would in turn drive up retail prices for consumers. But research shows that the price hike passed on to customers could be fairly insignificant: Restaurant prices will jump by 2.7 percent by the time San Francisco’s minimum wage increases to $15 in 2018, according to a UC-Berkeley Labor Center analysis. The McDonald’s translation: The price of a $4.80 Big Mac would increase about 14 cents, to just under $5.

The New York wage board, which is weighing the pros and cons of a minimum wage increase in the fast-food industry, is expected to make recommendations to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July.