One says she works six days a week at two different jobs, but is a regular at food pantries.
Another says a pay raise would help him finish college.
Another says he is struggling, even with subsidized housing.
These are America’s fast food workers, and they want a raise.
By Thursday, if possible.
Without better pay, workers say they will walk out for the day — and, unlike in previous actions, there may be civil disobedience.
This is Fight for $15: the non-union labor movement that has been trying to call attention to the plight of fast-food workers for about two years.
Founded in Chicago in 2012, Fight for $15 has organized strikes by fast-food workers in more than 100 cities across the country, including Washington, D.C. Workers have struck at McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, among other restaurants.
What they are asking for: $15 per hour. For those making the federal minimum wage — $7.25 per hour — this is a more than 100 percent increase in pay.
Workers say it’s long overdue.
“These companies aren’t magically going to make our lives better,” Terrance Wise — who takes home $9.30 per hour after eight years at a Kansas City Burger King plus $7.40 per hour at his second job at a Pizza Hut — told the New York Times last year. “We can sit back and stay silent and continue to live in poverty or, on the other hand, we can step out and say something and let it be known that we need help.”
But corporations say it’s impossible.
“This is simply an absurd demand,” Tim Worstall wrote in Forbes last year. “There would be very large unemployment effects from such a raise meaning that many people would simply lose their jobs.”
The problem: Fast food is a low-profit margin business. How low? According to Yahoo Finance, 2.4 percent. Just look at the headline: “Fast-Food Chains Aren’t as Rich as Protesters Think.”
Still, President Obama is in Fight for $15’s corner.
“All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity,” the president said on Labor Day. Obama said if he “wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union.”
Great — but unionizing fast food workers is a labor organizer’s nightmare. Some of these workers are unskilled. They work at many different companies. Some are undocumented. And the turnover rate in the fast-food industry was a whopping 90 percent in 2011.
How can unions organize workers when they’re not workers for very long?
This is perhaps why Fight for $15 less resembles a traditional push for a labor union than Occupy Wall Street. The resemblance evidently doesn’t bother the the Service Employees International Union, which has spent $15 million on the campaign it thinks will eventually gain more members.
“There’s been a recognition on the part of the S.E.I.U. that to get the labor movement out of the very deep rut it’s in, it’s going to take more than an individual local organizing drive,” Janice R. Fine, a professor of labor relations at Rutgers University, told the New York Times.
Occupy Wall Street’s focus on income inequality helped squash Mitt Romney’s White House run, but the leftist movement was never as identified with specific political candidates as much as its conservative counterpart, the tea party.
This may leave the movement unable to make last change — but, with union membership lower than its been in decades, Fight for $15 may be the best organizers can do right now. And even if their goal is unachievable, workers appear ready for anything that will buck the status quo.
Fight for $15 protesters at a McDonald’s in New York City made that much clear last year. Their chant: “”We can’t survive on $7.25.”