Should Fast Food Workers Strike for Higher Wages?

Employees across the country want higher pay and the ability to unionize.

Protesting fast food workers demonstrate outside a McDonald's restaurant on New York's Fifth Avenue, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.

Protesting fast food workers demonstrate outside a McDonald's restaurant on New York's Fifth Avenue, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.

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Employees at McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King are walking off their jobs Thursday to protest low-wages and organizing restrictions. The fast food workers are striking in 50 cities across the country.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, and the average fast food front-line worker makes $8.94 per hour. The workers want $15 an hour, saying it is impossible to survive on such a low income and limited hours. The average workweek for a fast food employee is only 24 hours, which means they earn about $11,300 per year – below the federal poverty line. They also say the jobs provide limited ability to move upwards professionally, despite industry claims that front-line work provides valuable opportunity to move up to managerial positions.

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Although the workers are striking for the right to negotiate with their companies – not for federal action – President Obama said in a speech last month that he wants to raise the federal minimum wage. The Service Employees International Union, which is helping organize Thursday's strikes, said in a statement after the speech that higher wages will help workers provide for their families:

As they struggle to put food on the table and pay their rent, minimum wage workers aren't standing for it any more. Across the country, we have seen courageous workers go on strike to call attention to the fact that their wages cannot support their families. We stand behind these workers in their effort to raise their wages.

Fast food restaurants and trade groups both contend that the industry provides jobs in communities with little employment opportunity. They also say that experience at a fast-food chain can help people transition into more lucrative careers.

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"McDonald's aims to offer competitive pay and benefits to our employees. Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald's," the company said in a statement.

Phil Hickey, chairman of the National Restaurant Association, said the restaurant industry is responsible for providing more than 13 million workers with a steady income:

Consider the facts about the minimum wage. The majority of workers who earn a minimum wage in the United States work outside of the restaurant industry. In reality, only 5% of the 10 million restaurant employees earn the minimum wage. Those who do are predominantly teenagers working part-time jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 71% of minimum-wage employees in the restaurant industry are under the age of 25; 47% are teenagers.

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The truth is that both part-time and full-time positions make the restaurant industry a versatile career option for a variety of workers. From underemployed or hard-to-employ workers to college graduates, the industry provides a pathway to the middle class and often beyond.

What do you think? Should fast food workers strike for higher wages? Take the poll and comment below.

This poll is now closed, but the debate continues in the comments section.