Workers from dozens of countries around the world are preparing for a mass strike on Thursday, May 15 to protest for higher wages and better working conditions. The date, chosen because it reflects the $15 per hour that workers are fighting for here in the US, will mark the day when the months-long fight publicly goes global (meetings took place last week). Across six continents, workers from Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC and other chains will take to the streets. European protestors are taking action in solidarity with US workers.
McDonald’s spoke with USA Today, saying 80 percent of its restaurants are owned by small businessmen.
“This is an important discussion that needs to take into account the highly competitive nature of the industries that employ minimum wage workers, as well as consumers and the thousands of small businesses which own and operate the vast majority of McDonald’s restaurants,” said McD’s spokesperson Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem.
The statement notably deflects attention away from the fact that McDonald’s revenue for the first quarter was more than $6 billion.
Among the cities expected to take part in the protest are New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia, with protests in Morocco, Japan and the UK expected to take part. Here in the US, this is also part of the fight to get the federal minimum wage raised to $10.10.
Fast food restaurants say an increase in wages will cost jobs, but we’ve reached the point where the industry needs to do something to find a resolution. Workers, who have a median income of $9, are making salaries below the poverty level and many of them are trying to raise children on these wages. They have a lot to gain, not much to lose, and seemingly no intention of backing down.
Though workers have been vocal about their grievances for a while now, their cause has been slow to pick up steam. In part, no doubt, this is due to the fact that there’s a perception that fast food jobs are mostly for teenagers, a stepping stone before they head off to college and high-paying salaries. Also, the restaurants argue that high wages will lead to higher prices. No one wants to pay more for their burgers.
However, the constant barrage of bad PR from workers is going to take a toll as it slowly chips away at the reputations of these restaurants. No one wants to hear that their favorite spot for burgers and fries mistreats their workers, particularly as unions and workers groups continue to hammer home the message that these are adults trying to make a living, not young people earning a little spending money.
Moreover, McDonald’s, the name that comes up most in this fight, has a shareholders meeting coming on May 22. They’re going to have to answer to sympathetic investors at that time and going forward. Add to that, the company reported that earnings were down four percent the first quarter of this year, with CNN reporting that the company is predicting a tough year with rising commodity costs and competition. McDonald’s can use the goodwill that comes with having happy workers crow about how things are getting better at the company they work for. They can’t afford to lose business from customers who opt to go someplace else where they think workers are being treated fairly.
And if a leader in the industry like McDonald’s were to take a stand on this issue, other chains would have to step up as well.