Thousands of fast food and low wage workers staged pickets at McDonald’s locations nationwide Thursday to support workers at the fast food giant in their demand for union rights and their calls for the company to address low pay, sexual harassment, and workplace violence.
“Across the country, McDonald’s workers face not just low pay, but sexual harassment and violent attacks,” said Rita Blalock, a Raleigh, N.C. McDonald’s worker who makes $8.50 an hour. “When we come together to demand union rights to address those issues, McDonald’s fights us every step of the way. But the best way for us to make our jobs better is by joining together and demanding the right to a union. That’s why we’re striking, so McDonald’s and its shareholders hear us loud and clear—we won’t stop until we win union rights.”
Workers went on a one day strike in Cedar Rapids, Chicago, Des Moines, Detroit, Durham, Houston, Kansas City (MO), Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Orlando, St. Louis and Tampa. More than a dozen Democratic presidential candidates showed their support on social media, in videos, or by walking the picket line with workers.
“Every worker in the United States ought to have a living wage,” Washington Governor and Democratic candidate Jay Inslee told workers outside McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Chicago. “When people tell you a $15 minimum wage is gonna wreck your economy, you tell them to come out and see me in Seattle, because we raised our minimum wage to $15 an hour and we’re still selling a heck of a lot of hamburgers.”
Workers marching in Durham, North Carolina were joined by Julián Castro, who marched with them alongside Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.
“My campaign is taking action, we’re joining other campaigns to say we’re not going to patronize McDonald’s until they pay $15 an hour, we’re not going to patronize them until they recognize union rights and we’re not going to patronize them until they do something to the address the sexual harassment and violence that too often happens to employees in their stores,” Castro told workers.
“What we have got to do is…make sure that workers at McDonald’s, workers in the whole fast-food industry, workers at Walmart, workers in all of the low-wage industries in this country have a right to join a union,” said Sanders. “Workers cannot get a fair shake unless they are organized, unless they are able to sit down and negotiate with their employers for fair wages, unless we address the issue of sexual harassment, the issue of violence on the job. The only way workers are going to make real progress and be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, to be treated with respect is with a union.”
Senator Cory Booker called workers striking in Kansas City, Missouri. “I stand with you for union rights and the right to organize,” Booker said. “Whatever position I hold I will continue to be with you in this fight so everyone can have a living wage, everyone can have the right to organize. I believe we will win this fight.”
The nationwide strikes on McDonald’s came as a new report from the National Employment Law Project was released revealing more than 700 violent incidents at McDonald’s restaurants in recent years, and 25 new lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in 20 cities were filed against the company.
The Fight for 15 movement has made significant gains over the years, helping many cities and states across the country push wages up to $15 an hour, as well as galvanizing service workers into forming unions.
Back in Chicago, where the movement has its origins and the current minimum wage is $12 an hour, workers were also joined by local politicians. In February, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a bill that will raise the wage across Illinois to $15 an hour by 2025. Workers, union members, and others though say that the increase isn’t coming fast enough.
“We’ve been at this for six years and enough is enough,” Chicago Alderwoman Susan Sadlowski Garza told workers. “McDonald’s needs to come to the table and talk. Fifteen dollars should be a starting point, not an ask. Everyone deserves a living wage to support their families. We shouldn’t be begging for scraps when we have a corporation that makes $6 billion a year and we ain’t even making $15.”
Garza was joined by her colleague Byron Sigcho Lopez, a newly sworn in aldermen that’s one of six members of the Democratic Socialists of America who won seats on Chicago’s City Council last election. Lopez told workers he would make getting the city’s minimum wage to $15 quicker a priority.
“We will start working on day one. On day one will make sure that $15 and a union is a priority,” said Lopez.
The Fight for 15 movement is pushing to make higher wages, fighting sexual harassment, workplace violence, and racism, as well as rights for workers to organize in the service industry a priority in the upcoming 2020 election. In a statement emailed to press on Thursday, organizers said they plan to hold town halls in early primary states, voter engagement efforts in key battleground states, protests at the first two Democratic debates in Miami and Detroit, and walk-a-days, where candidates shadow workers to experience their lives on the job.
The candidates participating in Thursday’s actions appear for now to be ready to at least campaign on the issues brought forward by Fight for 15. “I’m going to be running for President of the United States saying this – early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize,” Inslee told workers in Chicago.