Fast-food workers across the US on Thursday launched day-long labor strikes in an effort to win higher wages, amid a renewed debate in Washington on raising the US minimum wage.
Calling for a “surviving” wage, fast-food workers seek a pay hike to US$15 an hour in an industry that typically pays them the federal minimum wage of US$7.25 an hour.
Shementia Butler, 33, who works at McDonald’s in Washington and has two children, said being paid US$15 an hour would alleviate the need for government aid to fast-food workers.
“I’m struggling and I’m still dependent on government assistance to help take care of me and my family,” said Butler, who is earning about US$800 a month, but must pay a monthly rent of US$1,000.
The response at work when Butler presses for higher pay?
“‘If you don’t like it, quit,’” Butler said she was told by the restaurant’s management.
Strikes were planned in more than 100 cities on Thursday, according to organizers.
They follow similar labor actions at fast-food chains in August last year and in late last year.
Protesters on Thursday urged US President Barack Obama and the US Congress to act.
“Listen to us, Obama! We’re in the street,” said a group of strikers who marched near the Capitol, home of the US legislature.
Delano Wingfield, 22, who joined the rally, works part-time at two fast-food restaurants.
“I can’t afford the rent and I have to borrow money from my parents and I shouldn’t have to do that,” he said.
On Wednesday, Obama reiterated his call to hike the minimum wage, asserting that “it’s well past time” to raise a wage that in inflation-adjusted terms lags the level where it stood in the 1940s.
“If you work hard, you should make a decent living,” Obama said. “If you work hard, you should be able to support a family.”
A recent study by the University of Illinois found that more than half the families who work for fast-food restaurants rely on public assistance. However, efforts to raise the minimum wage face an uphill fight in Congress.
The Republican-led US House of Representatives in March rejected a proposal to raise the minimum wage to US$10.10 an hour.