It Just Got Real: Fast Food Workers Protest In the South

Support for wage increase is growing.

fatfoodglobalThe fast-food industry was warned about today’s global protest, so they should have been ready for it… it was pretty big.

Workers in 150 American cities participated in today’s strike, with newcomers like Philadelphia and Miami joining the movement for a $15 per hour wage and the formation of a union. In addition, protests took place in countries as diverse as Germany and Malawi. In all, 33 countries took part.

But perhaps most surprising were the protests that took place in the American South.

“Walkouts took place in every region of the country, including the South, where labor organizing is notoriously difficult,” says MSNBC. Colorlines also notes the importance of this development.

“In what may be Opelika’s [in Alabama] first labor protest ever and the latest so far, in piecemeal worker grumblings in right-to-work states that are anti-union and proud, local McDonald’s and Burger King employees are joining today’s #FastFoodGlobal strikes.” Far fewer people walked out in the South than in other places. But the fact that it happened is significant.

The labor market has changed over the past few years and as a result, it looks like the fast food industry will have to change as well.

One of the reasons that the unemployment rate has fallen in the US are the people who have been hired in the food and beverage area. More and more of those workers are adult Americans, not the teenagers we’re used to seeing at the local McDonald’s or Taco Bell. Adults come with adult expenses, making the traditionally low wages paid at a fast food restaurant inadequate.

More politicians are speaking out on behalf of the workers with Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., saying after sitting in on a conference call when the vote to strike happened, “Working families in Minneapolis, Detroit, Milwaukee, El Paso, Stockton and dozens of other cities are standing up and demanding the economy work for them. It’s clear from Monday’s call that this national movement isn’t going to stop until all working families have a fair shot to get ahead.”

McDonald’s seems to be softening its position a little putting out a statement that they “value [their] employees’ well-being and the contributions they make to our restaurants” and “[w]e respect the right of employees to choose whether or not they want to unionize.”

As more people back the raising of the minimum wage and fast food workers continue their protests, the country seems to be moving closer and closer to an increase. A separate Colorlines article notes that organizations that represent business interests have taken issue with a raise in the minimum wage. But public support and the sight of these workers, many of them speaking openly about the desperation that has pushed them into the streets, will chip away at the reputations of these fast food giants. They may think they can’t afford to raise wages, but the other alternative may be more costly.