The Inter-Faith Coalition is one of hundreds of clergy, community, and labor organizations around the country lending support and resources to the workers. The campaigns are being run on the ground by local labor-community-clergy alliances led by groups like New York Communities for Change, Jobs with Justice, and Citizen Action of Wisconsin. The Service Employees International Union is providing financial and technical support to the campaigns and is lending staff to help train organizers on the ground in each of the cities.
“The fast-food workers are fighting for all of us,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU. “SEIU members, like all service-sector workers, are worse off when large fast-food and retail companies are able to hold down wages and push down benefit standards for working people. That's why SEIU members are proud to stand with fast food and retail workers who are taking a stand for higher wages that will boost the economy for all of us.”
Several national labor groups across the country are supporting the campaign. Change to Win is providing research and communications support. An array of local labor groups representing workers ranging from grocery clerks to teachers to teamsters are also backing the workers’ campaigns in each city.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in conjunction with Progressive Congress joined fast-food workers on the strike lines.
“The American economy is big enough to work for everyone,” said CPC co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison, who walked the picket lines with strikers in Detroit Thursday. “I am proud to stand next to brave workers who are fighting to be paid a living wage. In the richest nation in the world, a full day’s work should mean you can pay for food, housing and health care for your family.”
The movement of fast-food workers fighting for $15 an hour got started in New York City last November with a strike by 200 workers. Backed by labor, community and clergy allies, it quickly spread around the country, with strikes in New York and seven additional cities in the spring and summer. As a result of those walkouts, workers from dozens of cities across the United States began to get in touch via Facebook, lowpayisnotok and through the websites of the campaigns, setting the stage for Thursday’s nationwide walkout.
Low-wage jobs have accounted for the bulk of new jobs added in the recovery, and retail and fast food are among the fastest-growing sectors. A new study from the Economic Policy Institute finds that wages were flat or declined for the bottom 60 percent of workers from 2000 to 2012, even while productivity grew by 25 percent over this same period. And while median household income has risen, according to a new study, it is still more than 6 percent below pre-recession levels. That loss in income has been most acute among low-wage workers, who have also seen a disproportionate drop in real wages in the recovery.
Companies like McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy’s have said that their low-wage jobs are stepping stones to better ones, but that couldn't be further from the truth. A report released last month by the National Employment Law Project reveals managerial positions make up just 2.2% of all jobs in the industry, proving that fast food jobs are not the "launching pad" industry officials would like Americans to believe. Likewise, the industry’s claim that its workers are teenagers is simply not backed by fact. The median age in the fast-food industry is older than 28 and more than one-quarter of fast-food workers are raising at least one child.
Recognizing these economic realities, editorial boards from the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, the Toldeo Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have all backed the workers’ campaign. The Times wrote, “Fast-food workers are fighting back, in just cause,” and predicted, rightly so, that strikes "are almost certain to continue" if corporations do not raise workers’ pay.
Today’s strikes are the latest in an escalating series of walkouts by low-wage workers across the country. Workers are not earning enough to support their families; their frustration is mounting; and they are responding to unsustainable low wages with direct action against corporations. Federally-contracted workers in Washington have walked off their jobs; a growing number of Walmart workers have gone on strike; warehouse workers walked out; carwash workers have hit the picket lines; and, earlier this week, America’s port drivers parked their trucks.