Thousands in US participate in nationwide McDonald’s strike, reject ‘PR stunt’ wage hike plan

Workers at McDonald’s outlets in 15 major cities across the US participated in a one-day strike demanding wage hikes and union rights

May 20, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
McDonald’s workers from 15 major cities across the United States went on a one-day strike on May 19. Photo: Fight For 15/Twitter

Thousands of workers of McDonald’s chain in 15 cities across the United States went on strike for wage hikes. On Wednesday, May 19, workers organized in the “Fight for 15” campaign participated in the one-day strike action across the country demanding that the minimum wages for workers at the McDonald’s chains be hiked to USD 15 per hour and the right to unionize.

The one-day strike was held in major cities including Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Kansas City, St. Louis, Raleigh-Durham, Fayetteville, Houston, and Milwaukee. Fight for 15, founded in 2012 as a coalition of low-paying workers’ groups in the US, has been fighting for a USD 15 minimum wage and union recognition for retail and fast-food workers ever since.

The strike comes at a time when restaurant and fast-food chains in the US have been facing massive labor shortages. It was also held on the eve of the annual shareholders’ meeting on Thursday, May 20.

In order to pressure the corporate chain, a demonstration was also held outside the McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago. Dozens were seen picketing outside.

Striking workers received support from major public figures, including progressive members of the US Congress like senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and even celebrities like Susan Sarandon.

“If McDonald’s can afford to pay its CEO over USD 10 million in compensation and spend billions on stock buybacks to award its wealthy shareholders and executives, you know what? It can afford to pay all of its workers at least $15 an hour. I’m proud to support the workers on strike,” said Bernie Sanders.

McDonald’s reported a major increase in sales and turnout in the first quarter of 2021. The company promised a wage hike plan to be rolled out over the next few months. It claimed that the plan will help around 36,500 of the more than 200,000 people employed in McDonald’s outlets and franchises.

The stated plan claims to eventually raise wages for entry-level workers between USD 11 to USD 17 per hour and shift managers are expected to receive USD 15 to USD 20 per hour. But Fight for 15 has rejected the plan as a “PR stunt.”

Striking workers put up notices outside several of McDonald’s outlets. Photo: Fight For 15

The campaign pointed out that it will only lead to a rise in USD 15 per hour by 2024, and only for workers in around 650 out of 14,000 total corporate outlets of McDonald’s in the country. “The reality is McDonald’s is giving shareholders billions while ignoring workers who deserve $15,” said the Fight for 15 in a press release published on the eve of the strike.

“McDonald’s thought they could get some good headlines last week by saying they would pay a fraction of workers – those at just 650 stores out of nearly 14,000 – a few dollars more. It’s too little for too few.”

McDonald’s has constantly passed the responsibility of paying workers low wages to government regulations, claiming that it abides by local, state and federal laws. Fight For 15 and other labor movements organizing low-income workers have argued that companies do not have to wait for new laws to start paying workers fair wages. An average McDonald’s employee earns about USD 7.25 per hour.

Workers groups have blamed low wages for the labor shortages various retail and fast-food chains — which apart from McDonald’s include others like Walmart, 7-Eleven and Wendy’s — are reporting. While companies are trying hard to incentivize applications with money and other freebies, they have refused to offer better wages as a way out of the shortage.