Fast Food Worker Strikes Go Global

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Getty ImagesFast food workers campaigning for higher wages on May 7 in New York City.

Yesterday, fast food workers holding a press conference outside a Manhattan McDonald's announced plans for a nationwide strike on May 15, when employees of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and other fast food giants will push for better treatment and $15 per hour pay. The strikes won't be limited to the U.S., the group said--on the same date, they'll be joined by thousands of workers across six continents.

"We've gone global," said Ashley Cathey, a McDonald's worker from Memphis, Tennessee. "Our fight has inspired workers around the world to come together."

The international agenda includes protests, teach-ins, and even a series of flash mobs inside five McDonald's restaurants in the Philippines. Japan alone will be the site of 30 protests; the UK will have protests in 20 different cities.

The planned strikes push back against more than just low wages. Hungry for Justice organizer Julie Sherry, who said the average fast food worker in the U.K. makes the equivalent of $8.50 per hour, described the enforced "zero-hours" contracts the company uses to boost profits. Under these contracts, workers have no guaranteed hours, but can be called into work at any time. According to Sherry, 90 percent of the company's U.K. workforce lives on these contracts.

"In the UK, we are at the beginning of a battle to take on the multinationals dominating the fast food industry, ensure workers know their rights, and open the door to organizing fast food workers into unions, and it's fantastic to be a part of a global movement," said Sherry.

Some of the foreign protestors are striking in solidarity with the U.S. workers. Louise Marie Rantzau, a McDonald's worker in Denmark, said she makes $21 an hour, and was surprised to hear how hard U.S. employees have to fight for just $15.

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 was last raised in 2009. While some states and localities have raised their minimum wages recently, attempts to boost the federal minimum wage seem unlikely to succeed in Congress.

The strikes, in the U.S. and abroad, will challenge the notion that fast food workers consist mainly of teenagers looking for extra cash, rather than parents struggling to raise families on minimum (or minimal) wage.

They'll also make a case that these are the jobs that are driving economic recovery. Michael Evangelist, author of a recent National Employment Law Project report, described fast food as the industry driving the bulk of low-end job growth. In that case, corporations have an added impetus to make these jobs better.

"This is just the beginning of an unprecedented international fast food worker movement," said Ron Oswald, general secretary of the IUF, a federation comprised of 396 trade unions in 126 countries representing a combined 12 million workers. "This highly profitable global industry better take note."
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