HOUSTON—Some fast-food customers in search of burgers and fries Thursday ran into striking workers instead. Thousands staged nationwide walkouts to push McDonald’s and other chains to pay higher wages.
Workers say they want $15 an hour, which would be about $31,000 a year for full-time employees. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.
"When you and I were growing up, they were jobs for high school kids, but not any longer," said protester Pat Hartwell. "There’s mothers, there’s fathers, there’s people that have to work two jobs."
‘You know, $7.25, it really don’t do anything, just get the bills paid. Nothing more, nothing less," said protester Casey Martinez. "Basically working just to pay the bills, you know. I’m here trying to fight for more."
“In Houston, workers started walking off the job at 6 a.m. during the height of the morning breakfast rush. Local organizers say Texas leads the country with the highest number of low wage poverty jobs. Workers said the strike was not just about money. It was about survival.
“The $15 is what we need to survive. I have no health insurance. I take two buses to work. No one takes into consideration the intricacies of what it takes to be a fast food worker,” Robin McCoy said. “It takes a lot of hard work. I do everything in that restaurant. I know every position in that restaurant. I deserve it.”
Congressman Al Green, State Representative Armando Walle, State Senator Sylvia Garcia, local and religious leaders were among those who encouraged workers to strike.
“It’s morally wrong for us to have the highest wage earners making hundreds of dollars per second and minimum wage earners barely getting by. We can do better in our great country,” Congressman Green said as he walked with protesters. “The minimum wage should not be a public assistance wage. It ought to be a wage to take care of your family without having to be subsidized by the government. We believe that $15 an hour is an appropriate minimum wage.”
Senator Garcia agrees.
“We want to make sure that working for a fast food company is not a fast track to the welfare line,” she said.
The strike across the nation has been the biggest effort so far: About 2,200 of the nation’s millions of fast-food workers this summer staged a one-day strike in seven cities.
We’re trying to make a statement here. We’re not just trying to take a day off,” said Jose Avila, another fast food worker.
This follows a series of strikes that began last November in New York City, then spread to other cities.
The demonstrations weren’t exactly spontaneous job actions. The protests outside fast food restaurants across the nation were organized by the Service Employees International Union.
Restaurant owners scoffed at the idea of more than doubling the minimum wage.
"Consumers would be the loser in that, because they simply couldn’t afford the luxury of eating out tomorrow like they do today if were to incur those kinds of labor costs," said Richie Jackson, the CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association.