By Paul Krehbiel
Thousands of fast food workers in 190 cities walked off their jobs from coast to coast Thursday, December 4, 2014 in the largest strike of fast food workers in US history. Workers are demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without interference from management.
In Los Angeles workers and community supporters gathered in front of a McDonald’s restaurant in the downtown area for a rally, and later a march to City Hall. A McDonald’s worker introduced as Homer, led the crowd in a call-and-response chant: “What do we want?” “15.” “What do we want?” “A union.” Homer talked about how McDonald’s workers struggle to survive on $8 an hour, many with children to support. Many fast food workers don’t get paid enough to pay rent on time every month, put food on the table for their families, and pay for health care and other expenses. Over half of all fast food workers nationwide qualify for and receive public assistance because their wages are so low. The failure of fast food companies to pay decent wages and provide needed benefits like health insurance has forced these costs onto the public. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 is supporting the fast food workers in Los Angeles.
Fast food workers were joined at the LA rally and nationwide by home health care workers, and airport service workers, who are represented by SEIU, and WalMart workers who are working with the United Food and Commercial Workers union in a display of inter-union and inter-industry worker solidarity. Many of the workers are young and people of color. Fast food workers carried signs declaring unity between fast food workers and the people of Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere who are protesting police killings of young black men.
Fast Food company profits soar
The fast food industry is big business, and corporations and top executives are wallowing in wealth while their workers struggle to survive. The fast food industry had sales of $191 billion in 2013, and is among the wealthiest and fastest growing industries in the US. Fast food executives make 1,000 times more than the average fast food worker. That means it would take 1,000 years for a fast food worker to make what his boss makes in one year. This income gap is wider than in any other industry. There are nearly 4 million fast food workers in the US. The industry also makes money by taking advantage of corporate tax loopholes. McDonald’s saved $14 million in taxes over the past two years by using a tax loop that let the company deduct the cost of so-called “performance-based” work, according to the Institute for Policy Studies. McDonald’s had $27 billion in sales, and $5.5 billion in profits, while its CEO, Don Thompson, received $13.8 million.
YUM Brands, owner of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, and Wing Street, is worth $8.7 billion. It’s CEO, David C. Novak, made $22 million in compensation in 2013. The income of fast food executives has grown by four times since 2000, on the labor of its workers. Kendrall Fells, a fast food organizer in New York City, said, “These corporations are seeing record profits, and CEO’s receiving record pay. It’s time to share those profits with the people who made them.”
Paul Krehbiel is a former Lead Organizer-Representative with SEIU Local 721 in Los Angeles.
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