In the Detroit area, more than 53,000 people work for fast-food establishments, more than twice the number employed by the auto industry, according to NELP’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. And contrary to popular perception, NELP argues, the vast majority of the fast-food workers are not teenagers out to earn pocket money, but adults trying to finance their lives. The median age of women working in the nation’s fast-food industry is 32, and for men the median age is 28, NELP said.
Representatives of the fast-food industry countered that most restaurants operate on thin profit margins, while providing an avenue for large numbers of people to enter the workforce. Paying workers double what they earn now, they suggested, is unrealistic.
“The restaurant industry provides opportunities for millions of Americans, women and men from all backgrounds, to move up the ladder and succeed,” Sue Hensley, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.
Organizers acknowledge that the impact of the Detroit walkout will be mostly symbolic, because only a tiny fraction of the area’s fast-food employees — maybe a couple hundred — are expected to participate.
Nonetheless, supporters see in the scattered job actions the makings of a movement. The fast-food and retail walkouts come after some Wal-Mart employees, unhappy with their pay and benefits, refused to go to work last year on Black Friday.
“It is a huge inspiration for workers to see other workers facing similar conditions taking action in a broad way,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, a key backer of the New York job actions. “People are taking this on as a legitimate fight for the soul of the country in terms of where the economy is headed for workers.”