Fast-food wage protests slated for Southern cities
DALLAS — A series of rolling strikes against the nation’s fast-food industry — one-day walkouts that have attracted hundreds of workers in New York and Detroit — is scheduled to move south on Thursday.
In the strikes, which are making their way into the South for the first time, workers and their backers are pushing for a “living wage” of at least $15 an hour.
Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas, will be among more than 45 cities, including Raleigh, N.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Tampa, Fla., to take part in the strike. The pre-Labor Day job action will take place the day after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Many workers in fast food, called “quick serve” in the trade, earn minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour federally and many states.
Organizers said the Dallas turnout might be small — several dozen workers — since the movement is new to Texas. But they see it as significant that workers here contacted organizers asking to participate.
“It’s significant that people in a city like Dallas are organizing and taking the pretty significant step of joining in the national day of action,” said Ginny Goldman, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, which advocates for low- and moderate-wage workers.
“Many consider (Texas) to be the low-wage capital of the country, where you have more minimum-wage workers than any other state.
“People were seeking out how they could get involved,” she said.
In the Dallas area, workers who are employed at chains including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Jack in the Box are expected to walk off the job for one day. Organizers declined to reveal the location of the picketing and rallies until just before the strike begins.
The strikes, which launched in New York City last November and spread to the Midwest, are being run by local labor-community-clergy alliances. The Service Employees International Union is providing financial and technical support to the campaigns and is helping train organizers.
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What happens with the wages paid to restaurant workers makes a difference in the Lone Star State.
With 1.07 million restaurant and food service workers, Texas has the second-largest restaurant workforce in the nation. And it leads the nation in projected restaurant job growth between 2013 and 2023, according to the National Restaurant Association. The trade group predicts a nearly 16 percent jump in Texas restaurant and food service jobs in 10 years.
Texas also had the nation’s largest collection of minimum-wage workers last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas accounted for nearly 13 percent of such workers across the country, the data showed.
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Restaurant operators, many of whom are franchisees, say restaurant margins are too thin to accommodate a big increase in costs — whether it’s substantially higher wages or health care costs.
Also, the restaurant association views the minimum wage as “the nation’s starting wage.”
“A majority of minimum-wage restaurant workers are just beginning their professional lives,” Richie Jackson, chief executive of the Texas Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “Almost half of these workers are teenagers, and 70 percent are under the age of 25.”
Strike organizers countered that the median age in the fast-food industry is about 28 and more than one-quarter of fast-food workers are raising at least one child.
The strikes are meant to focus attention on workers like 45-year-old Darletha Jones, who has worked almost exclusively since September 1998 for Wendy’s.
A cashier and cook who makes $8.75 an hour, Jones said she needs help from the Section 8 government housing program to pay the rent on her Dallas home.
Jones took Thursday off to participate in the job action. She said she doesn’t want to strike but “I want to make more money. … I’ve got to pay bills.”
Victoria Price, 25, is paid $7.80 an hour at McDonald’s, where she said she is a shift manager.
The mother of two said she uses food stamps to help stretch her grocery dollars and lives with a family member to cut expenses.
She said she’s planning to participate in the strike because “I have a voice.”
“I work hard. I open the store; I close the store. I deserve to be paid for what I do,” she said.
“Though I do have my job, it’s still not enough for me and my two kids,” she said, choking back tears.
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Price, who says she dreamed as a child of owning six McDonald’s, said she believes paying higher wages will help the company grow.
Goldman, of the Texas Organizing Project, acknowledged that many restaurants are owned by franchisees.
Noting that last year McDonald’s posted $5.5 billion in profit, she said, “Considering that franchisees are required to pay significant amounts to the corporations, perhaps they should spend more on workers’ wages rather than on corporate franchise fees.”
Both Price and Jones said they are not concerned that they might not have jobs to return to after the strike.
“You’ve got to have faith in God,” Jones said. “You never know what might happen.”
If workers have an attitude of fear “and don’t come together, we’ll never have nothing,” she said.
“It takes one to make the first step in order for somebody else to make the second step.”
©2013 The Dallas Morning News
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