Fast Food Employees Across Houston Striking Today for Higher Wages

Categories: Food Policy, News

ffstrike.jpg
Photo from fastfoodforward.com
In the wake of strikes that started in New York back in November and more protests throughout the Midwest earlier this summer, fast food employees in the South and on the West Coast are planning walk-outs of their own.

Today, fast food workers in more than 35 cities across the country are striking and protesting to demand higher wages. Workers at restaurants such as McDonald's and Burger King as well as retailers like Macy's and Dollar Tree say they are tired of being paid minimum wage or just slightly above, claiming that supporting a family on those wages put them below the poverty line in the United States. Fast food employees are now asking to be paid $15 an hour.

It's no coincidence that the strikes are happening the day after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Fifty years ago, the march was a rally against discriminatory hiring and racial inequality. Today, the protesters are hoping to achieve a large pay increase in order to be able to support themselves financially.

Here in Houston, a rally is planned for early Thursday morning, but the fast food employees and organizers are keeping quiet about the exact time and location of the strike. It's rumored to be outside of a McDonald's on the west side, but none of the McDonald's employees we talked to would answer any questions for fear of losing their jobs.

One person who is answering questions is State Representative Armando Walle of Houston's District 140. The rights of fast food employees hit close to home for him.

Armando_Walle.jpg
Photo from armandowalle.com
Representative Armando Walle
While he was growing up, Walle's mother worked at the Church's Chicken at Tidwell and Airline to support her four children. Walle explains that he was born when his mother was only 16, and she was never able to get the education that would allow her to work jobs with better pay or benefits.

"She was trying to pick herself up and get a job," Walle says, "but the only jobs available for her education experience were in fast food. I was fortunate to do well in school and break the cycle of poverty, but there were times when we didn't know if our lights were going to be cut off. It's very personal to me."

Walle hopes that the protests will shed light on the plight of these hardworking individuals who can barely make ends meet due to their low income. Minimum wage in the United States is currently $7.25, which adds up to a yearly income of $15,080. For a single mother with four children like Walle's mother, that's $8,470 below the poverty line.

Richie Jackson, CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, has told a number of publications including the Texas Tribune and Dallas News that most fast food employees are young and just entering the workforce. He says that about half of all fast food workers are teenagers and 70 percent are under 25. People like Jackson don't think that 16-year-olds without a high school diploma should be making enough money to support an entire family anyway, and that fast food jobs often lead to better employment in the future, once workers have graduated from high school.

According to data from the AFL-CIO and the Center for Economic and Policy Research though, half of fast food workers are 23 or older, with a median age of 28. More than one-third of them are raising children. Most of them have high school degrees. A report by the National Employment Law Project found that only 2.2 percent of fast food industry jobs are technical, managerial or professional, which means that the vast majority of employees are working jobs that may not have any upward mobility.

People who are opposed to the strikes claim that they were organized by paid political activists like the Service Employees International Union, not the employees themselves. They claim that union membership is declining, and because of that, unions are looking to new areas to recruit members.

Regardless of who's behind the strikes, people like Walle see the protests as a good opportunity to talk about the plight of the fast food employee, particularly in Texas. According to the National Restaurant Association, Texas has the second-largest restaurant workforce in the country (1.07 million people) as well as the largest percentage of minimum wage workers (13 percent). There are a lot of people working minimum wage jobs in Texas.

"We need to shed light on these families who are working hard to make ends meet and continue to find themselves in a hole," Walle says. "I want to let the public know that there are a lot of hardworking folks. I don't dispute that fast food are entry level jobs, but there are a lot of older folks too."

Fifty years ago, the people who marched on Washington demanded that all Americans have a decent standard of living. At the time, that meant raising the minimum wage to $2 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, that's $15.26 an hour today.

"I think it's obtainable," Walle says when asked if he thinks the strikes will pay off. "For me, $15 when I look at it now is not a lot of money. You're still at the poverty level for a family of four. A lot of these people are teenagers, but some of them are families, and even the teenagers are sometimes helping their parents pay the bills."

There's no word on how long the strike will last or what kind of agreement must be struck between the protesters and corporations and franchisees for the rallies to end, but for now, there's a hum of excitement online and among the few people who know the plan of action. Rep. Walle is one of them.

"I want to participate," he says. "I'm ready to stand and fight for these families.

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69 comments
alilastrapes
alilastrapes

Here's the thing: plenty of fast-food restaurants have adopted the idea employees being their biggest asset and are figuring out ways to be able to pay them living-wage salaries and give them incentives and plans to enable them to work their way up to better paying positions. 

Check out this article: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/08/30/2556301/burrito-chain-pays-entry-level-workers-10-hour-pay/

We absolutely do not have to decrease quality or value of food in order to increase pay for employees. Period. 

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

Maybe a decrease in demand for not very healthy fast food would be a good thing?

Tom Williams
Tom Williams

Hummm. Everyone calls for civility from "the other side" and says they are being slandered by invective. I haven't called anyone a name, insulted their beliefs or questioned their ability to read and think. We don't agree and that's ok. But you can't be offended by someone while engaged in the same slash and burn MO. And, no, Scott, I do not eat at McDonald's or any other fast food restaurant. I also can read, think for myself and have a job that pays me based on my skills and results.

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

I used to believe that the best and fastest way for workers to increase their earnings was to be in greater demand, that is, more jobs needing to be filled, than people to fill them. Hence, I thought of zero population growth, small families, family planning as the way out. Get the population down to where people could demand higher wages because they had more options for work being thrown at them. So they could pick and choose. And move between jobs if one offered a better salary.

Douglas Mann
Douglas Mann

The Living Wage concept worked out great for the USSR and every other communist base society that ever existed.

Anse
Anse

A man should be able to negotiate his wages. Saying that he can just quit and get another job is garbage. The only way to truly negotiate with the kind of leverage to equalize the labor market is through unionization.

We have unions to thank for a lot of the progress we've made as a society. It sickens me to see us sell all of that out. Unions gave us a middle class, but now we've gotten too prosperous and comfortable to remember how we got here. Conservatives won't stop until we're back in the old days, groveling before the moneyed classes for their scraps while we slave away.

paval
paval topcommenter

By traditional market rules, regulation of wages should be driven by market forces. And it is to the most part, as I do not think that neither fast food nor traditional restaurants have problems in finding people to work for either 7.25 or even worse, 2.75 per hour. 

However, of lately, the US has been turning away from market economy to a certain extent. The economic crisis bailouts showed that banks, car manufacturers and other large entities were good in the practice of: "Privatizing earnings and socializing losses" . It seems that both, traditional and fast food restaurants are good at this practice too. Fast Food by forcing their workers into the food assistance programs and traditional restaurants by getting the customers to pick up the rest of the paycheck to their employees (through a formerly voluntary recognition of good service (known as tip) to what has become a forced 15%, preferred 20%, surplus to the invoice amount (some one giving 15% or less is accused of being a heartless person, giving that waitstaff depend on the tips to live. Per definitionem of "tip" they should not depend on it for living). 

A deeper reform to the economic system seems necessary. Either revert back to full market forces control (a la Reagonomics), or socialize the system more than what Obamacare will bring to us in 2014, by expanding a shared responsibility between employer and employees to cover not only a mandatory health insurance, but also insurances for cases of unemployment, disability and pensions.  

Or choose the middle of the way, as most European countries have done based on the social system reforms of 1880 by Count Otto v. Bismarck, chancellor of the Prussian Empire. When Bismarck introduced the precursor of a modern social security system back in 1880 in the Prussian Empire, he also coined the phrase of the night-watch state, a state whose role should be that of a very passive interventionist.   

Unfortunately for voters, there is neither a pure market rules follower in the present arena (I reckon for fear of making their own job obsolete), nor is there one that would dare to push for a further socialization of the American economic and social system to a more Bismarckian system. 

Congratulations to Ms. Steinberg for getting away once of the wholesome world of restaurant visits and venturing into a field that also turns out suitable for a heated debate, but at the same time touches a topic that is actually really important for the future of our society. Political journalism, without meaning partisan politics, is too rare these days and i enjoy reading that debates still can ensue over topics as the one here portrayed. Debates tend to ignite and fuel reform.


Jay Brechtel
Jay Brechtel

LOL....... what a joke. "Oh noes...... I couldn't get my Big Mac today..... Lawd hep me."

Robert Gonzales
Robert Gonzales

Fire them all. There are plenty with no skills to take their place. Many in this economy would love to have ANY job!

businessowner
businessowner

I'm sure Mr Walle is also pro-immigration.  When they allow the millions of illegals to become citizens, guess what's going to happen to the workforce?  There will be more people looking for jobs and willing to work for the minimum wage, if not less.  These people thinking they are worth $15/hr will be out on the street and the "new" citizens will take their place on these type of jobs.

Mike Bolyard
Mike Bolyard

It's easier to ask the government to step in and FORCE those horrible millionaires to open their wallets so they can eat their guilt free big mac. "Look I voted for a tyrant to take care of all the things that bother me!" Doesn't it bother the same folks when the other side tries to legislate social issues you don't agree with? A statist by any other color is still a statist.

Scott Robinson
Scott Robinson

Tom Williams, you could always boycott mcdonalds if you feel so strongly about it. Who the hell eats that crap anyway?

Scott Robinson
Scott Robinson

All I'm saying is don't blame real world problems on imaginary causes that your econ ignorant libtard mind accepted verbatim from your propaganda. Read a book and think for yourself. Use rational logic. Address the actual issue.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

$10 is reasonable, $15 to drop fries and act surly is wishful thinking on a grand scale.

Chad Hanson
Chad Hanson

You might be making $1 an hour I sure wouldn't be. Pay should be based on your skills not what you feel entitled too.

Tom Williams
Tom Williams

And I guess you are asking them to take action against their employer - find another job or demand better through their work. Neither are really effective in that there are not other jobs AND you are saying that no one has worked hard enough as a line employee there to actually "earn" more than what is allotted. No one will suddenly become middleclass working the line at McDonalds....so by striking, they are taking action. Just not the docile, self-defeating and subservient action you would like.

Scott Robinson
Scott Robinson

There's definitely a legit problem here though. It's just laughable that most of you completely fail to understand it. You got a problem with stagnant wages and real inflation? Talk to the morons that you probably voted for. Talk to the treasonous criminals at fed reserve. Talk to your govt and their failed education system. And their immigration policy. That's what causes a glut in unskilled labor market which drives down wages. Learn some economics before running your ignorant mouth.

Tom Williams
Tom Williams

Alex, as soon as you can find places for nearly a million low-wage people desparate for any job, then that would be great. Low wage businesses like McDonald's, WalMart, etc, use a business model in which suppressing workers wages is their path to financial success, where as competitors such as In and Out Burger, CostCo, Target, etc, provide the same service and make huge profits, but treat workers in a way that gives them a modicum of financial success and independence that does not rely on the tax-payer to subsidize. You may get cheap prices at Walmart, but you are really paying twice. And, without any minimum wage law, people would still be making $1.00 or $2.00 per hour and companies would still be charging exactly as much as you pay now. Your model relies on rational thought without ascribing greed and simple size of the endevor to offer any job to people desparate to have them.

Alex Sansone
Alex Sansone

It is up to each company and its ownership to determine how they choose to balance the obligations to their shareholders vs. the obligations to their employees. If the employee feels that they are undervalued, and are unable to make a compelling argument as to WHY they are worth more than minimum wage, they are more than capable of seeking out other opportunity where they can be appropriately compensated. The fact of the matter is "I need more money" has never been a compelling reason for an adjustment of an employee's compensation. The fact that these folks took jobs with a company, knowing the pay structure and career development path, they cannot now turn around and say "well now it's not fair so I'm changing the rules"

Tom Williams
Tom Williams

Alex, is that how come the Chairman of McDonald's makes $17m plus stock options and other benefits but a typical employee working 40 hours a week earns under $20K per year, qualifying for federal benefits because they earn less than poverty in the US? Does it feel right for a company to make that much profit but leave its tens of thousand full time employees to receive benefits from other tax-payers? As a conservative, it seems that you would support a still healthy but lower profit and a boost in these wages to move hundreds of thousands of people off the welfare rolls you detest so much.

Alex Sansone
Alex Sansone

hey, if you're willing to pay $15 for a drive-thru burger, then sure, by all means, give 'em the raise. My point is simply this was not a well thought out argument and that the ramifications are going to have more negative financial impact than the current minimum wage. Half of them will lose their jobs, and more will likely get laid off after people stop going to the restaurants due to the price increases of the products.

Adrian Taylor Barnard
Adrian Taylor Barnard

Calling you a classist is not immature name calling. I could call you a douchebag loser, but I think you are proving your own case with that one.

Adrienne Byard
Adrienne Byard

No point in trying to have a discussion with a troll. I'm out.

Alex Sansone
Alex Sansone

glad to see the most substantive argument you can come up with is childish name calling. how about you put your head down until the adults are done talking.

Adrienne Byard
Adrienne Byard

Yes, economically sustainable being needing survival assistance via my tax dollars, while CEO's bank millions upon millions.

Alex Sansone
Alex Sansone

how about instead of striking they spend that time and effort looking for a different job that pays them what they think they're worth?

Alex Sansone
Alex Sansone

no.....nobody ever "deserves" money. You EARN money. And the amount that you earn is based upon the value that you bring to the company for whom you work. At least that's how it works in an economically sustainable model.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

@paval Reganomics, trickle down economics, voodoo economics, yeah that's precisely how America lost 1/3rd of it's industrial goods output in the 1980's -- things used to say made in USA, now that's China. The Godfather of outsourcing was an abject failure as a president and no amount of pointless banter and insane military budgets will change the fact that Reagan was easily one of the worst presidents we ever had, you can also thank the movie star for the massive deficits too.

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@gossamersixteen Maybe they're surly and rude and not very good at their jobs because we treat and pay them like garbage. 

Motherscratcher
Motherscratcher

The whole "redistribution of wealth" nonsense is wearing me out. Even the nomenclature is classism at it's best. "Redistribution of wealth" implies the taking of money from bad rich people and giving it to more-desrving poor people. "Need" is uncompromisingly subjective. Does one need cable TV or a cell phone or internet? What sort of groceries are "needed"? The argument has an ugly underside. Many things people cosidered luxuries not too long ago seem to be the inalienable rights of all these days and part of what people consider the basics. What I think I am reading is that there are a portion of fast food workers that have needs that can't be met by a fast food wage. So rather than have that person work more or harder, all employees should be elevated in pay to the level at which the employee with the maximum "need" is deemed fairly compensated. In this scenario, you certainly wouldn't want any single individual without children to make more than a single parent. It's fun, fair, positive soccer for grownups.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@Tom Williams but most times the chairman started out on the line and worked his way up....

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@Adrian Taylor Barnard Because he is calling it earning instead of making, pretty solid way to look at it...

justthefacts
justthefacts

@Nicholas Dion What business is it of yours what the hell anybody eats

Anse
Anse

Spend a couple of decades designing crap cars that nobody wants to buy, and they want to blame the unions? How well have unions worked out for Germany--Europe's biggest and most prosperous economy, and heavily unionized? Detroit promised pensions to their retirees and couldn't deliver the goods because they thought Americans would never buy foreign cars in large numbers and they got spanked as a result.

paval
paval topcommenter

@gossamersixteen

Most of the former US manufacturing is done in China nowadays because they can produce most items cheaper and better than the US manufacturers were able to (pretty much the way that actually fueled the growth of the Southern states in detriment of the Northern States in the US.)

Consumers fuel demand for Chinese products because stores that sell them, like WalMart, see ever growing shopper counts (remember how many gifts used to be another a Christmas tree when you were little and how many are under a tree now, even though the family size is shrinking. Just an example that popped up right now). 

So we consumers are all victims of a monster we ourselves created. But this monster is ruled by economic principles, only that instead of being only Texas or US-wide competition, it is now worldwide. 

Other economies from the industrialized world see this outsourcing process too, but given the sheer size of the US economy it is here where you can notice it best. 

Also the explosion of Chinese manufacturing started more in the early 90s than when RR, the actor, was around.   



paval
paval topcommenter

@JefWithOneF @gossamersixteen  

Doing a lousy job because you get paid lousy is not a good excuse and will not necessarily net you a better job. Who is going to hire someone that performs lousy because he/she is not content.

I always delivered the best I could, everyday, even when I was unhappy with the pay or other conditions at a place. Did not stopped me from looking for a way to improve myself through a job change though. 

As for the treatment that poorer people get from richer people is another set of questions that go into a deeply ethical level. How could wealthier people get the impression that it is ok to treat people of a different level in society shitty. Is that a leftover from plantation times? What kind of kick do people treating others badly get out of it? ETC. 



gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

@JefWithOneF @gossamersixteen Uh even as a fairly liberal minded person I do have remind you that they alone chose to work there, taking it out on the customers for the inequity they deal with care of the management at the establishment is taking it out on the wrong person. Without customers they wouldn't even have that job. And I treat everyone equally and respectfully -- you will not see me on a cellphone trying to order a hamburger or sandwich, and yes M'am and or  Sir are a given with me..

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

@texmex01 Uh that isn't correct sorry, though McDaonald's will tell you that 3 of their CEO's have worked their way up.  The current one refused to comment, check the bloomberg story for facts. He's greedy and profiting heavily off the backs of minimum wage employees and has no shame for his level of greed.

paval
paval topcommenter

@Anse In times of wealth unions demanded a lot and companies were willing to give a lot in order to maintain peace. 

Germany is a very special example because beside of being heavily unionized there is also a collaborative model of union representatives being members of the board of directors of major companies. This way they are involved in business decisions and can relay them to their clientele. But also understand why it is important to make sometimes painful decisions. 

The German economy of late has been able to come back from its strongest crisis in the 90s because it went away from a stiff unionized model to a slightly more flexible model, but as in the US you have people in Germany earning barely the necessary to live. And Germans do not have to invest in a car to just make it to work, housing is quite often very affordable thanks to urban concentration and there are plenty of social nettings in place to catch up those that can't make it on their own. 

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

@Anse As would I without hesitation and a better conscience. This is a free country, they chose to work there, they can choose to go elsewhere somewhere like Trader Joes/Aldi/Costco where they pay a real living wage. You can always apply for another job while you're working at said lousy job.

Anse
Anse

Get real. How many people *choose* this kind of work? But they deserve the misery I guess. They have it coming because they just do. I'd happily pay another fifty cents for a burger if means giving these folks a raise.

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