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