In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, thousands of fast-food workers are set to stage walkouts in dozens of cities around the country in an effort to raise their minimum wage.
Fast-food workers have demanded a minimum wage raise to $15 an hour in the service sector, the ability to form unions and bargain higher wages. Thursday's strikes will follow one-day walkouts staged earlier this summer in seven cities. Organizers are expecting the walkouts to be the largest nationwide strike by fast-food workers, reported the Associated Press.
It is not clear whether the strikes will force restaurants to shut down across the country. Organizers announced the walkouts days in advance, leaving restaurant owners ample time to readjust their staffing schedules.
In July 2009, a three-step minimum wage increase to $7.25 per hour from $5.15 was finalized after the legislation was passed in 2007. The Economic Policy Institute reported 4.5 million workers would receive a raise, generating an additional $1.6 billion annually in increased wages.
The minimum wage has not been increased since. The current minimum wage is still less than it was through most of the period between 1961 and 1981, when adjusted for inflation. More than 70 percent of Americans support President Barack Obama's push to increase the minimum wage to $9, according to a February report by Pew Research Center and USA Today.
Earlier this summer, McDonald's received flack for designing a monthly budget guide for its employees that seemingly acknowledged the low wages it pays its workers. The guide required employees to have a second job after making only $1,105 a month. After expenses such as housing, car payments and health insurance the budget would leave workers with only a $25 daily allowance.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median hourly wage of $8.85 last year for more than 500,000 fast-food cooks nationwide, with an annual wage of $18,410. Roughly 3 million workers in food service and preparation garnered $18,260 in annual income and $8.78 in median hourly wages.
The fast-food industry grosses $200 billion per year, according to Fast Food Forward, a New York City non-profit aimed at raising wages for fast-food workers. The average fast-food worker in New York City makes roughly $11,000 a year, compared to the $25,000 daily salary of most fast-food CEOs.
A July 24 speech by Obama in Galesburg, Ill., marked the kickoff of the White House's "Better Bargain for the Middle Class" initiative, which aims to end incentives to export jobs, reward businesses that generate jobs by lowering their tax rates and raising the minimum wage.
"With new American revolutions in energy, technology, manufacturing, and health care, we are actually poised to reverse the forces that have battered the middle class for so long, and rebuild an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead," said Obama.
According to a recent EPI report, wages across all job categories and most major demographic groups have been stagnant for awhile.
"A decade of flat wages is evidence that the current economic system is not fair to working Americans," said EPI President and co-author Lawrence Mishel in a statement. "The economy has been designed to produce these results. Right now, employers hold all the cards. The wage-setting mechanism is broken."
The report acknowledges that wages will begin to rise if the unemployment rate begins to sink. The BLS reported an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent in July.
Lawmakers should push policy that aims to increase the minimum wage so that it eventually grows to half the average worker's wage, restoring the bargaining power of low and middle-wage workers, according to the report.