Fast Food Industry Bracing Itself for the Biggest Round of Strikes Yet

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Fast food workers announce a global protest for a higher minimum wage outside a McDonald's restaurant in Manhattan on May 7, 2014. (Photo: Tara Mehta)

Fast food workers announce a global protest for a higher minimum wage outside a McDonald's restaurant in Manhattan on May 7, 2014. (Photo: Tara Mehta)

A campaign that began in 2012 with a brief walkout at one fast food restaurant in New York City has now spread across the country. The next round of fast food strikes arrives on Thursday, and organizers promise that it will be the biggest day of action so far. asked Josh Eidelson, who covers labor for Salon, to give us a preview.


What’s coming next is a round of strikes that will include workers in 150 cities and protests in over 30 countries on May 15. There will be strikes in cities that haven’t seen fast food strikes so far — cities like Philadelphia, Sacramento, Miami and Orlando. And there will be protests from Karachi to Casablanca to Dublin to Geneva to Buenos Aires; a teach-in at McDonald’s in Auckland, New Zealand; flash-mobs in the Philippines, and a strike in Italy the following day, May 16.

Eidelson says organizers have found it challenging to maintain the campaign’s momentum:

This is an escalation for a campaign that at every step has had to grapple with the question of, ‘How do you escalate?’ They are up against these mammoth corporations and have chosen — in a move that looks more clever now than it did at the beginning — to go after all of the companies in the industry instead of just one. Organizers know the fast food companies can sustain some damage to their brands, and they know they can sustain some loss of profits. So in order to keep the momentum going — and in order to engage more workers and build toward more of a mass movement — they have to keep escalating.

Eidelson recently uncovered internal documents from the National Restaurant Association that reveal how the industry views this campaign.

He tells

These documents certainly have a different tone than the positions the industry has taken in public, where they have not only dismissed the merits of demands that include paying people $15 per hour and allowing workers to organize without intimidation, but they have also dismissed the relevance and the significance of these protests.

In private — in messaging to their members — we see them talking about the protests’ growing traction, we see them talking about the campaign becoming more coordinated, and we see them talking about how they’re going to push back. So it becomes very clear that the industry is aware that this is an unprecedented challenge.

Saru Jayaraman: Justice for restaurant workers

Eidelson also details the restaurant lobby’s anxiety over the successes of the Restaurant Opportunity Center, whose co-director, Saru Jayaraman, spoke to Bill Moyers about the movement in February.

For more information about Thursday’s strikes, visit the Raise Up for $15 Facebook page.

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.
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  • Anonymous

    my friend’s sister makes $80 hourly on the computer .
    She has been unemployed for 10 months but last month her check was $12489 just
    working on the computer for a few hours. view website F­i­s­c­a­l­p­o­s­t­.­C­O­M­

  • Anonymous

    Why is it that the family circumstances, age, or intended use of wages should have ANY bearing on wages paid to a worker?
    You know that some of the things you are mentioning are actually illegal to consider when setting wages, right?
    The only relevant item to set up wages is the value being added by the employee, the ease or difficult to find and train a replacement, and how reliable/competent that employee is vis-à-vis the available pool of potential workers.
    An employer is neither a mother, nor a social worker.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, and I suppose the CEO of one of these fast food chains should be rewarded for squeezing the last cent of pay out of his workers while lobbying congress to reduce food stamp payments. Of course his value added for executing this heartless task on behalf of stockholders is tens of millions of dollars per year.

    Doesn’t anyone see that continuing down this path is not only immoral, but ultimately everybody must loose to some combination of financial collapse due to lack of wage-based demand or pure anarchy.

  • Anonymous

    Nonsense. Haven’t you read what the protesters want? They claim they need higher wages because they can’t afford rent/housing in New York, San Francisco and other cities. As in, there is so much disposable income, that people are bidding rent and housing prices up.
    There is absolutely no lack of demand in America. If there were, prices would come down and adjust to lower demand.
    You don’t seem to get it. The US economy has been growing just fine, and demand for things like cars, college, medical care, luxury items is at/near all time highs. There is plenty of money being spent.
    And yes, part of a CEOs job is to have the most cost effective work force. That does not mean the cheapest work force, by the way. Apple, Google, Goldman Sacks, without unions have some of the highest paid work forces in the world. Why? Because the add value and are desirable by many employers.
    Simple as that. I don’t know of a single high value employee in any industry who is not well compensated.

  • Anonymous

    I believe we are entering a new phase where an increasing number of workers will be striking for a living wage. This will most likely escalate to the point where the.police use violence far in excess of the pepper sprays used against occupy. It is important for the strike leaders to call for non-violence for success to ultimately follow.

    Ultimately everyone will become frightened enough by financial collapse that a window of opportunity will open to fix this. I would suggest a constitutional amendment to guarantee workers a fixed portion of gross margin as well as to make the minimum wage a living wage. We can fix this if we have the will and patience.

  • Malcolm Swoboda

    “Why is it that the family circumstances, age, or intended use of wages should have ANY bearing on wages paid to a worker?”

    They always are.

    Otherwise we have slavery. Literally. Wages are only even given now because ’employers’ have to take into account that they don’t own their workers, and have to provide for their well being with a …wage.

    Minimum wages also exist for this purpose. If employees can barely feed, clothe, and house themselves on a wage, there will be unrest. Raising wages, even if by ‘force’ of government, averts much of this unrest and possible revolution.

  • Malcolm Swoboda

    Yeah! And those low value employees can just rot!

  • Anonymous

    What is the value of a fire fighter when your house is burning? How much do they get paid?

    What was the value of the CEO OF Merryl Lynch when he invested in toxic mortgage assets and destroyed the value of his company to all its investors? How much did he get paid?

    If every US. Company was like Apple, our economy would collapse overnight due to lack of wage-based demand. Their US sales are many times larger than their US wages. Also they grossly underpay their technically trained employees in their Apple Stores.

    By the way, I am not in favor of strengthening unions, but I am in favor of employees striking for a living wage. Walmart employees that need to skip lunch to make ends meet is not acceptable. I am in favor of government regulation to bring payrolls back up to 50% of GDP.

  • Anonymous

    I could care less about the value or lack of value of the CEO for a company for which I am not an investor. None of my business – has no impact on my life whatsoever.

    As to the CEO of a company I invest in, if I think they are bad or overpaid, I vote in a proxy and/or sell the stock – problem solved.

    As to firefighters, in many locations in the US they are volunteers. In my town, Fire is professional, EMS is volunteer.

    Their nominal added value is the total value of structures and lives saved over a period of time, minus the equipment, and operational cost, divided by the number of firefighters, adjusted by specialized training and performance ratings. Why is that mystery to you?

    But none of that is relevant to setting wages. The wage of a firefighter is the minimum wage that enables attracting and retaining a good employee base, with enough education, and physical abilities to become proficient after training. No less, no more.

  • proletariatprincess

    I stand in solidarity with these fast food workers around the world. Best wishes to all my brothers and sisters in the struggle for a living wage and better working conditions.

  • Anonymous

    Baron95 is expressing his values, which go in two parts: 1)I don’t give a s**t about anyone, and 2) that is the correct way to go. He confuses “is” for “ought.” The “is” is what many capitalists do- the only thing is the bottom line. But he confuses this for an “ought.” Greed is good, that is what an owner should do. Care, empathy are for suckers. The bottom line is all that counts. If I can pay a dollar an hour and get away with it, I should go right ahead. He is a good American; that is the way we do things here. If a tobacco company sells a product that kills millions, no problem unless they get in legal trouble. Whatever one can get away with is fair game. Consequences to others don’t matter.

    Fortunately, there are people who think that human concerns matter. In some countries- Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, etc., there is somewhat of a social compact that includes concern for one’s fellow human beings. Those of us who make a decent living and support raising the minimum wage also have a different value system than Baron95. Thank God.

    If I am not for myself, who will be; if I am only for myself, who am I; if not now when. No one should have to work for poverty wages in a country with as much wealth as ours.

  • Anonymous

    And what of the not so “high value” employees? Is it okay with you if poverty increases, if middle class families continue to fall further and furth down economically. Not your problem. If technology makes most humans expendable? Not your problem. If you see someone bleeding on the street, no need to stop and help because it doesn’t have “added value” for you. It seems that mechanical, so-called rational “value” in mathematical economic terms ironically means having no values when it comes to other human beings. You must be a lonely guy. I hope your kids, parents, friends (if you have any of these) give you “added value,” and don’t care if you don’t give a damn about them beyond what they have to offer you.

  • Ward Randolf Kendall

    Fast food workers don’t work hard enough. Perhaps if they did they wouldn’t be so greedy for higher wages.

  • Anonymous

    Your double standard is showing again. The net value added of the CEO is many billions negative, yet the principals of Merrill Lynch received $15 billion in bonuses for destroying their company.

    Also, for US manufacturing workers to compete, according to your standard, they should be willing to work for Bangladesh labor rates — a sure recipe for revolution.

  • Anonymous

    One thing you can do if you truly do stand in solidarity is give extra money to the person serving you next time. You then can say you “stand in solidarity” with that individual and really feel good about yourself. That could be your choice. Just a thought.

  • Anonymous

    You can make the argument for raising the minimum wage all you want. The funny thing about this position is nobody EVER talks about the ramifications of doing such a thing. It has been proven time and time again that raising the minimum wage costs jobs. Should the minimum wage be adjusted to $15 from where it is now, it will have a devastating effect on employment and the cost of goods, which will make our sour economy downright disgusting. Simply raising someones wages because it makes other feel good is not only unsustainable, it’s not economically viable.

  • Citiboy

    Most weekdays, I stop at Burger King for a breakfast sandwich meal. I did not buy one today, in support of the strike. I usually pay $4.90 per day for my meal. I would gladly pay $1 or $2 more if I thought that the fast food workers were being paid a living wage and treated fairly. An important part of “being treated fairly” is being allowed to form a union, without harassment or interference. Being forced to work “off the clock,” being charged uniform fees, and refusing overtime pay are examples of unfair (and illegal) practices. Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, etc.: Maybe some of us will decide we can do without fast food until you change your shameful, bullying, slaveowner practices.

  • Anonymous

    Gee, maybe the CEO of McDonald’s will have to reduce his hourly pay below the over $9,000 an hour he gets, so it will take him more than the usual 2 hours or so to earn what his average worker makes in a full year, full time. He might have to do it in 3 hours!

    Numerous studies, comparing state to state, comparable counties, have shown no or next to no impact on employment of a small raise in the minimum wage. McDonald’s, etc. will keep selling as many burgers in the U.S. as they can- while still expanding in China, etc. Unlike Apple, they can’t make our burgers abroad. And if I have to pay an extra nickle a Big Mac to keep the CEO in yachts, I’ll handle it.

    Instead of linking to industry shills repeating the mantra that paying more to workers makes them suffer (such empathy!), look at the academic studies, such as the one by Allegreto, Dube and Reich (2011).

  • Jim Montgomery

    I applaud you for not buying on strike day, but do more and stop buying fast “food” entirely. It will send a message to the upper management of these corporations and as an added bonus, you’ll likely find that your own health will improve.