Across the United States, thousands of workers of the fast food chain McDonald’s are gearing up for strike action on May 19. The strike has been called as part of the National Day of Action for $15/hr by the Fight for 15 campaign to protest what are deemed as “poverty wages.” Employees from different cities across the country have signed up for the strike, including in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Kansas City, St Louis, Raleigh-Durham, Charleston, Houston and Milwaukee.
The one-day strike which was announced last week will be held on the eve of the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting scheduled for May 20. A major picket and demonstration is also planned outside the McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago.
According to the campaign, McDonald’s made a profit of USD 5 billion in 2020 even as the US was reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. The campaign and the workers have raised objections to the fact that despite such an impressive performance, the company has not committed to a living wage for its workers.
“Last year, in the middle of a global pandemic, McDonald’s made $5 billion and gave billions to its shareholders – all while workers like me risked our lives to keep stores running for less than USD 15 per hour. I can’t afford to wait any longer for a raise,” said Hakim Dumkia, a worker in St. Louis, speaking to Business Insider.
“I plan to go on strike to say to McDonald’s: don’t wait for politicians in Washington to pay us what we need to survive. We supported McDonald’s through the pandemic, and now you need to pay us enough to support our families and our communities,” he said.
Workers’ groups have found that an average worker at a McDonald’s store currently earns around USD 7.25 per hour. Last month, the company had hinted at a limited wage hike, but the details of the offer are yet to be divulged.
McDonald’s workers have also demanded that the company withdraw from membership of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the International Franchise Association (IFA), which have been at the forefront of lobbying against changes to federal minimum wage laws.
Push to raise minimum wage grows
At a time when retail and fast-food sectors in the US are facing major labor shortages, the strike will add more pressure on corporate chains that refuse to pay living wages to their employees. Trade unions blame the abysmally low wages and unsafe working conditions as the reason behind low applicants and the labor shortage.
Major chains like McDonald’s, Dollar General, Wendy’s, 7-Eleven and Walmart, among others, have reported a major shortage of workers. Several of these companies have received little to no response to their calls for applications to fill up vacancies. Some have even tried attracting applicants with free lunches or monetary incentives. However, they have fallen short of offering better wages for their job postings.
Fight for 15 has repeatedly asserted that hiking wages without waiting for government intervention can help resolve the shortage. Workers’ groups have also pushed back against the right-wing and conservative narrative which blames the federal unemployment assistance and pandemic stimulus checks as the reason for the labor shortage.
As McDonald’s workers prepare for the strike, similar movements are being waged by workers in other corporate chains as well. In Maine, workers at a Dollar General outlet staged an indefinite walk-out on May 3 after complaining of being overworked and underpaid in the name of labor shortage.
Similarly, the campaign United For Respect for Walmart workers is planning on holding a series of events to pressure Walmart to hike its minimum wage from the current rate of USD 11 per hour to USD 15 before the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting on June 2.
Trade unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) have been trying to pressure the US Congress into passing the Raise the Wage Act. However, such efforts have come up against corporate lobbying.