Hundreds of activists joined low-wage home-care workers for a demonstration in support of striking fast food employees. The Washington St. demonstration included workers from McDonald’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Popeye’s, and Wendy’s. Protesters called for a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union.
After an hour-long sit-in, police arrested eight workers and one protester for blocking the intersection of State St. and Congress Street. Similar situations played out at other events: according to one count, at least 436 people were arrested in 32 cities.
Today’s efforts are the culmination of two years of activism and organization by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and local community groups like MassUniting. Started in New York City in November 2012, the ‘Strike Fast Food’ and ‘Fight for $15’ movement has grown to include fast food workers in every region of the country. Today’s actions are the largest and latest in a string of coordinated one-day strikes and protests.
Fast Food companies and the National Restaurant Association have predictably tried to portray their demand of $15 hourly wages as unreasonable, and dismissed the strike as nothing more than a “PR event” with “paid demonstrators.”
Workers and activists say that the current minimum wage is not nearly enough to cover the costs of living, even while working 40 hours a week. Jasmine Almodovar, a home-care worker from Cleveland who makes $9.50 an hour, told the New York Times this week:
“I work very hard — I’m underpaid. We deserve a good life, too. We want to provide a nice future to our kids, but how can you provide a good life, how can you plan for the future, when you’re scraping by day to day?”
Kyle King, a local Burger King employee, shared similar feeling with the State House News Service:
“It’s not possible to live on what we’re making now. We’ve had some small victories over the last couple of months but it’s not enough. We need a living wage. Not a part-time wage, a living wage.”
The current federal minimum wage stands at a paltry $7.25, while the Massachusetts state minimum wage is a slightly better $8.00. The Obama Administration is pushing for a bid to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, and the Bay State has already enacted legislation to raise the state minimum wage to $11.00 by 2017. Seattle made headlines earlier this year by raising its minimum wage to $15 – the highest in the country.
Many policy experts think the minimum wage is far too low and has less value than in the past. According to one estimate by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, “if the Massachusetts minimum wage had grown at the same rate as economic productivity since 1979, the minimum wage would be $19.77.”
“In 1968 a full-time minimum wage worker earned about $21,400, measured in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars. Today a minimum wage worker earns $16,000, or about $5,400 less than he or she would earn if the minimum wage had the same real value as in 1968.”