Two hundred workers from dozens of fast food outlets in New York City—including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Domino’s, and Taco Bell—walked off their jobs Thursday morning to demand $15 an hour in pay and the right to form their own independent union, according to the organizers of Fast Food Forward.
It is the largest strike ever in the United States against the $200-billion-a-year fast food industry and represents the latest in a wave of collective actions by low-wage workers to change conditions in their industries and, in many cases, to form unions.
Before Thanksgiving, fast food and retail workers in the posh North Michigan Avenue shopping district in Chicago launched a new union with protest marches. This year, warehouse workers, mainly for Walmart, have expanded organizing and conducted successful strikes. On Black Friday, roughly 500 Walmart workers nationwide refused to report for work and protested alongside tens of thousands of supporters. Retail workers in New York have launched a fight for “sustainable scheduling,” and car washers from Los Angeles to New York have joined or launched unions.
Workers in these and other low-wage occupations have long endured poor and unpredictable wages, few or no benefits, erratic scheduling, arbitrary treatment by supervisors and a lack of voice at work. But the recession—and the economy emerging from it—has given added urgency to workers’ discontent. And increasingly, middle-income workers find themselves driven into precarious jobs, the fastest-growing segment of the job market.