Fight for 15 movement hits Springfield, Missouri

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On a recent Friday afternoon in Springfield, Missouri a small group of fast food workers gathered in the meeting room of a public library to discuss their fight for a living wage.  These workers, all in their twenties, are the organizing committee of Springfield's Fight for 15. The fight for 15 is the organized effort of fast food workers to be paid $15 an hour and have the right to organize a union. 

The nationwide movement officially arrived in Springfield, Missouri last week when a small group of fast food workers, local activists, members of Missouri ProVote, and union members from UA, SEIU, and CWA picketed a local McDonald's. Many potential customers ate lunch elsewhere after seeing the picket or reading the literature handed out to every car stopped or slowed by the demonstration.

Management responded immediately to the action. According to the local fast food worker organizer, Josh K., everyone at the store received a 15 cent an hour raise. It is unclear if the raise was due to a miscommunication, or an intentional slap in the face.  

While the library is abuzz with children just out of school and ready for the weekend. Josh asks the group, "is 15 cents enough?" They all silently shake their heads. Hearing nothing, he loudly asks, "are you going to be bought off for 15 cents an hour?"

"Hell no" someone says.  Josh responds immediately, "well why not?" Joel, a tall, thin young man who used to work at the McDonald's on Glenstone who now works at another fast food burger chain, replies "that like a penny on the dollar." A maintenance worker for McDonald's says, his voice flexing with anger, "I'm tired of getting kicked down."

The fast food workers present all have different stories of how they came to work in the industry.

Brandon worked for McDonald's for years, saved money, and was eventually able to open his own business. Unfortunately, he was broken into and everything he had invested in was stolen. "You need a job" he said shaking his head, "you gotta go back to the one place you hate most."

Some, like Joel were "told everyday growing up if you mess up you're gonna end up working at McDonald's, if you don't study you're going to end up working at McDonald's"  Clearly bright and articulate, Joel finishes by saying "well I did everything I alright, I graduated, and I still ended up working at McDonald's."

Most people who eat at places like McDonald's have no idea how the people there are treated, or how terrible their bosses are to them. Promised an annual raise, when Missouri's minimum wage was raised from $7.35 to $7.50 an hour all of the employees of the McDonald's on the corner of Glenstone and Cherry were told that bump in pay was their 'raise' for the year.

No one present even slightly resembles the image of the teenager working for spending money that some have tried to say is the average fast food worker. "When my girl told me she was pregnant" Brandon confides, "the first thought I had wasn't I'm going to be a daddy. It was how the hell am I going to pay for this."

Considering that one of the workers present just got off a shift at this same McDonald's during what he was told was an hour the store made $900 in profit the idea that they cannot be paid better is ludicrous to all assembled. "They are taking advantage of us because there are no other jobs out there" says Daniel still in his uniform. Considering that Walmart is the third largest employer in Springfield the few other jobs available are not much (if any) better.

The abuses these workers continue to suffer on the job extends far beyond the immorally low wages they are paid. While on shift, one worker's mother came in to tell him his grandmother had just died. After speaking for five minutes to console his mother, a supervisor told him that it counted as his break and not to have personal conversations on the clock.

Daniel after being hit by a car while walking attempted to call in and tell his supervisor he couldn't come to work because his wrist was likely broken was told to come in or he was going to lose his job. It wasn't until another supervisor saw how badly swollen his forearm was and that he could not close his hand that he was given 'permission' to go to the emergency room.  

Many were threatened with termination for using the restroom. Many were also told not to eat anywhere else while in uniform - even while at Walmart cashing their checks.

To add insult to injury, at the McDonald's on Glenstone and Cherry they are forced to play Christian music all day. Apparently ignorant of the many scriptural exhortations against exploitation, the owner professes to be a devout Christian. One of the workers, almost ill from the hypocrisy, says it plainly: "We're going home every day without enough to make ends meet. Good Christians? The good Christians are the ones f*ck*ng us." Many nod silently in agreement.

As the meeting wrapped up, each made a commitment to each other to bring at least one more person to next week's meeting at the Teamster's union hall. Another action targeting a local fast food chain during lunch rush is planned for the week of April 20th.

It is clear that, while just now getting off the ground in Springfield, the fight of fast food workers for a living wage and the right to form a union is here to stay.

Photo: James Raines/PW

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  • If you want higher earning jobs go to school or find ways to. Join the military save while your in obtain the tuition benefits, then when you get out you can make more. Its what I did I have to start paying off debt pickup another part time job. have a baby on the way. Many options are there for federal grants and loans for low income individuals and numerous others. The point is if you apply your self at something and say yea I can do this you will. Raising the minimum wage to 15 an hour is ridicules heck I make 14 and I attended a vocational school. I Understand the want to get higher wages but have you looked at how much each month or paycheck taxes takes out of your pay that is enough for a house for me $465.32. Raising minimum wage across the board will intern make business's charge more for their product to offset production costs. The only way to become more productive and live a life worth living is reduce taxes, trade tariffs, set a standard tax rate across the board and have every company provide insurance to its employees and not through exchanges that break your wallet. Unionizing fast food and other similar buissness is a good idea also but it will not stop the main concern monetary gains.

    Posted by say what?, 05/10/2015 1:55am (2 months ago)

  • An hour where the store made $900 in profit? Highly unlikely... $900 gross is very doable, but requires many employees. Most owners shoot for about a 9 of 10% profit if everything is running perfectly. No waste, no theft, no overtime. It does cost money for that product, that inventory, that gas and electricity. Not every dollar in the register goes into Mr. Owners pocket. I will agree that there should be an increase in minimum wage, but $15 per hour is ridiculous. I have moved on from mcd's to a highly trained job with several years under my belt. I am just short of $15 per hour now and I can tell you that I work much harder at my job now than I ever did at fast food.

    Posted by former mcd store manager, 04/25/2014 11:57pm (1 year ago)

  • Sorry, our brother's name is James Raines-not Rains.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 04/24/2014 10:07am (1 year ago)

  • Thanks to James Rains for this careful and needed article on the plight of hundreds of thousands of workers and their response to wholesale theft exploitation.
    The attitude and position of wenttoschool below reflects a vast ignorance of the foundation for those of us who count ourselves as those among the "educated".
    There would be no opportunities for higher education in a double sense, if not for the work of day to day, week to week, year to year, ordinary workers.
    Firstly, there would be no experience from which to study theory-and theory comes from work, and not vice-versa.
    Secondly, while we study, toy with ideas, and play with the scientific method, doing so under reasonably comfortable conditions hopefully(at least we know that this is more conducive to education), the hewing, sewing, washing, mopping, buffing, electric work, carpentry, heating, cooling, refrigeration, ventilation,
    cleaning, porting, evaluation, engineering, building, digging, and all else is done by literally millions of workers' labor to support education of workers.
    So, we tragically have many too many wenttoschools, going to school but not learning the obvious and fundamental, never understanding even why they were able to go there-that's capitalism USA style-stupid.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 04/24/2014 10:05am (1 year ago)

  • These individuals are all jack offs in fast food. They couldn't handle a real job. The $15 a hour they ask for is starting wage for college graduates. They need to work on improving themselves. They are no different then the beggers on the street.

    Posted by wenttoschool, 04/23/2014 5:22pm (1 year ago)

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