NEW YORK – Fast-food customers in search of burgers and fries today might run into striking workers instead.
Organizers say thousands of fast-food workers are set to stage walkouts in dozens of cities around the country, part of a push to get chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s to pay workers higher wages.
It’s expected be the largest nationwide strike by fast-food workers, according to organizers. The biggest effort so far was over the summer when about 2,200 of the nation’s millions of fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven cities.
Today’s planned walkouts follow a series of strikes that began last November in New York City, then spread to cities including Chicago, Detroit and Seattle. Workers say they want $15 an hour, which would be about $31,000 a year for full-time employees. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage, which many fast food workers make, of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.
The move comes amid calls from the White House, some members of Congress and economists to hike the federal minimum wage, which was last raised in 2009. But most proposals seek a far more modest increase than the ones workers are asking for, with President Barack Obama wanting to boost it to $9 an hour.
The push has brought considerable media attention to a staple of the fast-food industry – the so-called “McJobs” that are known for their low pay and limited prospects. But the workers taking part in the strikes still represent a tiny fraction of the broader industry. And it’s not clear if the strikes today will shut down any restaurants because organizers made their plans public earlier in a call for workers around the country to participate, which gave managers time to adjust their staffing levels. More broadly, it’s not clear how many customers are aware of the movement, with turnout for past strikes relatively low in some cities.
McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say they don’t make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants.
For the restaurants it does own, McDonald’s said in a statement that pay starts at minimum wage but the range goes higher, depending on the employee’s position and experience level. It said that raising entry-level wages would mean higher overall costs, which could result in higher prices on menus.
The Wendy’s Co. and Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, did not respond to a request for comment.
The National Restaurant Association says the low wages reflect the fact that most fast-food workers tend to be younger and have little work experience. Scott DeFife, a spokesman for the group, said that doubling wages would hurt job creation, noting that fast-food chains are already facing higher costs for ingredients, as well as new regulations that will require them to pay more in health care costs.