Low wage workers in 15 cities across America staged a one-day strike targeting McDonald’s on Wednesday to demand a minimum wage of $15 an hour, better working conditions, and a union.
“All McDonald’s seems to be worried about is getting paid and paying their shareholders billions of dollars in bonuses, but what about us workers,” said Violet Cardona, a former McDonald’s worker, at a rally outside the company’s headquarters on Randolph Street in the West Loop of Chicago. “We’re the ones putting our lives on the line, we’re the ones who are struggling, so if they’re having meetings with shareholders why can’t we be a part of it?”
The demonstrations took place a day prior to the fast food giant’s annual shareholders meeting, which took place virtually on Thursday due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. McDonald’s reported nearly $5 billion in profits in 2020 and paid out around $4 billion in dividends to shareholders. Workers at demonstrations across the country say that with the amount the company profits, it should be able to do better for them.
In Chicago, workers marching wore bright red shirts that read “respect us, protect us, pay us,” and chanted “we work, we sweat, put $15 on our check.” And while McDonald’s recently announced it would raise wages for workers, those raises only apply to a small handful of workers at its corporate-owned locations. McDonald’s locations are mostly franchises, which means around 95 percent of McDonald’s workers will not actually see raises.
The Fight for 15 movement has been pushing for a $15 minimum wage since 2012. Despite resistance from both major corporations and legislatures on both local and national levels, low wage workers have made significant gains in America. But the fact that it’s taken nearly a decade to make those gains has left people continually struggling to make ends meet, and with nearly 70 percent of Americans having less than $1000 in savings, even a small financial challenge could spell ruin.
“All it takes is one car to break down, or a trip to the emergency room,” Richard Eiker, a worker in Kansas City, told the Kansas City Star on Wednesday. “It’s up to us to band together as brothers and sisters in the struggle for true freedom and equality,” Eiker said. “That starts with holding these million dollar corporations accountable, and insisting that anyone who gives their blood, sweat and tears to a company deserves a living wage and a union.”
BREAKING: St Louis @McDonalds workers ON STRIKE for $15/hr and the right to form a union.— Show Me $15 (@Show_Me15) May 19, 2021
McDonald’s has called us “essential” throughout the pandemic yet they refuse to pay us a living wage. We won’t be silent! We are worth more. #Fightfor15 pic.twitter.com/OF0pBk9PBW
In addition to low wages, some workers say the company offers few – if any – protections to them on the job, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ever since the pandemic started, we had to fight to get the proper equipment,” Sade Andrews, a worker in Tampa, Florida told Spectrum Bay News 9 on Wednesday.
Back in Chicago, Cardona said she was “basically forced out and retaliated against” for working with the Fight for 15, and for speaking out about sexual harassment she witnessed on the job.
“Us workers risk our lives, as well as our families lives to come to work for pennies. We can’t afford to take care of our family but we have no choice but to go do it, because options are limited for whatever reason,” said Cardona, who added that she’s currently facing eviction.
“We continue to see these corporations shift responsibility… instead of owning the responsibility to pay their workers with dignity, to pay the workers dignified wages, living wages, and allow them to have a union,” said Chicago Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez. “Today, we say enough of that. McDonald’s and multi-billion dollar corporations have the resources, have the money, to change that now.”
In addition to the demonstrations, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) joined others for a “virtual strike” broadcast over Zoom.
“The reality is what’s most important is half of the workers in America are living paycheck to paycheck. Millions are working for starvation wages,” said Sanders.
“I want you to know what you already have accomplished. Eight states in the United States have passed legislation calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage. Over 40 cities and towns have done the same. I want all of you to know, don’t think for one second we’re giving up on this fight in the Senate. We’re gonna continue the fight and we’re gonna win that fight.”
“I worked in the food industry. It is one of the most difficult but essential industries in the United States,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “We are nothing without food workers. Period. I’m so thankful that you all are doing this because it’s important that we really talk about McDonald’s specifically. Because they are a leader in this industry and their actions set the tone and set the standard for so many other competitors as well.”
While many fast-food, retail, and other companies, as well as politicians and pundits, have bemoaned that “no one wants to work” as businesses begin in some places to resume more normal operations and allege they’re struggling to find employees, they too often ignore their own responsibility in attracting workers, which means paying them and providing benefits.
“Right now they’re saying the issue they’re having is finding people to work for them,” said Cardona. “I wonder why.”