Fast food workers rally vs. poverty wages


OAKLAND, Calif. - As two new reports were released showing the far-reaching consequences of their poverty wages, fast food workers and their supporters packed a Wendy's restaurant here Oct. 15, demanding a living wage and labor rights.

Their lunch-hour protest was among many across the country.

Similar actions in recent months included a national day of action Aug. 29. Some workers have faced employer retaliation for their organizing efforts.

The two reports show that over half the nation's fast food workers are eligible for public assistance costing taxpayers some $7 billion a year, while corporations like McDonalds, Wendy's, and Burger King scoop up billions in profits.

As they waited for a local Wendy's manager to fax their letter summarizing those findings to company headquarters, protesters whipped out their cell phones, trying to reach executives with their message. Some said they got through; many did not.

Meanwhile, the crowd heard from McDonald's worker Judith Zarate, who said she's worked for the nation's biggest fast food purveyor for a decade. She now earns $9.10 an hour, with no benefits - up from her starting wage of less than $7.

Zarate has three children, ages 2, 7 and 10 years. She said when she works 40 hours as week, her income and that of her husband can't meet the family's needs, forcing them to rely on WIC and SNAP food programs, and Medi-Cal.

"I believe we are waking up and we want $15 and a union," Zarate told the crowd. We're going to continue fighting, and we need the help of all of you."

Reassembling outside in the parking lot, protesters heard from local elected officials.

Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb told the crowd, "People cannot live on minimum wage. People need to be able to pay their bills, support a family, and live a life, and you can't do that if you're working full time or nearly full time at places like this."

Fast food restaurants need to thrive and businesses need to grow, he said, to provide jobs in the community, but it is essential to end a situation where taxpayers are subsidizing fast food mega-corporations making mega-profits.

State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner noted that wages typically ranging between $10,000 and $18,000 per year make most fast food workers eligible for California's newly expanded MediCal (Medicaid) program.

"That is unconscionable," she said. "We need to have everyone in our society paid a wage where they can live with decency, where their children are not hungry, and where they can pay for basic necessities like rent. All our employers, fast food and others, who are paying less than subsistence wages must do better!"

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW

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  • truth is...Corporate greed has oversold the franchise idea to too many unsuspecting business owners.
    There are fast food businesses on every corner....many of them doing "marginally, at best"

    The real culprit is too many wannabe capitalists...vying for a share of the dwindling market...who might ask?
    Yep, it's the workers, most on part time with low, low wages and little promise to advance.

    Hard to believe, beside the workers, many of the Franchisees are struggling as well.

    Capitalism is always built upon the shoulders of the

    Posted by jules, 10/19/2013 10:41pm (2 years ago)

  • Great article, Marilyn. Glad to see this movement alive and well in the Bay Area. Brave workers!

    Posted by Michelle Kern, 10/18/2013 5:44pm (2 years ago)

  • C-M-C and M-C-M should consistently refer to commodity-money-commodity and money-commodity-money(technically, never capital-money-capital and its counterpart).

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 10/18/2013 1:41pm (2 years ago)

  • These fast food companies are already in the process implementing self pay kiosk systems at all locations that will eliminate thousands of cashier jobs. One employee will help 6 to 8 stations just like you see at walmart and other retailers. When this goes into full effect will the employees protest their cashiers job back at $9 an hour and protest that these paystations are taking their jobs away?

    Posted by fred, 10/18/2013 1:04pm (2 years ago)

  • As much as the kinds of studies that this and other very positive articles cite, and are useful, they fall short of revealing the very real exploitation of food and service workers. These studies are especially when connected with the active struggles of workers and the public. This is extremely positive.
    However, the daily, hourly, and even instantaneously focused attention, sharp wit, strong backs, intelligent hands and steel trap minds, courtesy and obedience workers give, incessantly, is not captured on the back end only, in our fledgling Medicaid and C H I P programs, for example(both needing massive expansion) to give economic assistance to McDonald's workforce, and to all workers in general.
    Marx's brilliant and proven theory of exploitation, where in C M C and its complement M C M is at work in the food service industry, just as it is in all other capitalist industry, points to the front end of exploitation, and is critically useful for giving our workers understanding of the problems of modern industry for us.
    McDonald's, as the colossal real estate giant it is, has its roots, in the virtually unlimited tireless labor of especially Latino and African American women, and especially young women(many of whom have young children).
    From the ruthless hijacking of this labor, big banking interests, scour the earth, devouring all property, stamping it "PRIVATE", subjecting it to the rule of capital-money-capital(C M C)and again(selling in order to buy), its corollary, money-capital-money(M C M) then(buying in order to sell) supplied with the special magic of(due to the manipulation of capitalist markets partisan, bought, capitalist and governmental "economists", geometrically increasing profit(due to anti-labor and anti-people policies and regulations expressly to increase profit).
    In the same way that the working class in the United Kingdom struggled for higher wages, better working conditions(health)and job security, helping to ensure the well-being of their lives and their families' lives-and the key, which is often lost in capitalist analysis: the survival of the capitalist system and modern industry itself-the working class in the United States, dealing with an ultra modernized capitalism with short, rapid tentacles, from stealing hamburger labor, strangling real estate markets all over the world, converting it to banking capital at binary speeds, decimating labor everywhere, (even at its base, with workers themselves, with their allies, the only true line of defense for themselves and modern capitalism) so much so, that their grandparents and grandchildren of workers roam, homeless, hapless, and hungry, begging at the doorsill of the real estate and meat market monopolist McDonald's-"please, please, please, a penny for a Mcmuffin and a Mccoffee?"
    So, as it is very true that McDonald's and other food industry cost workers and their economy on the back end, like these studies(the U C Berkeley and others)show, we also need to look at and explain to workers how we pay on the front end with our labor, in effect, giving the capitalist billionaires an advance payment(this also Marx elucidates in his Capital)as if it is needed or in order(we, with our families suffering from exploitation and genocide, need the "advance payment").
    In millions and millions of ways, monopolies like McDonald's must restore the millions and millions of workers they have exploited and misused, restoring wages, health, and a future for their elderly and youth, as workers.
    Their behavior, as Nancy Skinner says," unconscionable."

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 10/18/2013 11:45am (2 years ago)

  • I love this article. Kudos to you Marilyn for your in depth coverage. I have always hoped that before now workers at the fast food chains would earn a liveable wage. I re-call getting arrested at a Jack N the Box many years ago around this issue. It is great that the workers are organizing themselves to fight for themselves and their families. All power to the workers!

    Posted by mama cassie, 10/17/2013 5:22pm (2 years ago)

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