As Midterms Approach, Fast Food Workers Plan Strikes in Battleground States

To make sure she, her partner and her one-year-old daughter have what they need, Hannah Jones has had to take a second job on top of her work at a Wendy’s in Atlanta, Georgia. After more than two years, she’s still making just $7.50 an hour at Wendy’s, even though she knows how to do everything in the restaurant — run cash registers, work the drive-through, restock, wash dishes, prep and draw on the sandwich boards. Her pay “is not enough,” she told Truthout. “By the time the money comes, it’s gone by the next day.”

If she made $15 an hour, on the other hand, “It would change my life,” she said. She would be able to afford the necessities — rent, car payments, food, baby supplies for her daughter — and also save money. She wants to open an account for her daughter to pay for college, but she can’t do it on what she makes now.

Those are the reasons she decided to go on strike for the first time last week. “I really wanted to let everyone know my struggle,” she said. “It was really amazing, the feelings …” she added, emphasizing that we are “all in this together and all of us can make a difference.”

“If all of us come together in a strike, we get what we want,” she added.

The strike that Jones joined in Georgia was part of a series of increasingly large strikes that fast food workers have staged nationwide since they first walked off the job six years ago in New York City. On October 3, more than 200 fast food workers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, went on strike at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and other chains as part of the Fight for $15 to demand they be paid at least $15 an hour and be allowed to unionize. During the strike, more than 25 workers were arrested alongside local politicians and community members, according to organizers from the Fight for $15.

The day before, hundreds of fast food workers in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, went on strike and nearly 20 were arrested, including congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib. Meanwhile, on October 4, fast food workers went on strike in the midterm battleground states California, Connecticut, Florida and Georgia. Hospital workers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also walked off the job while higher education workers in Florida, and child-care workers in California rallied.

“Honestly, it’s 2018 and I can’t think of a job that shouldn’t start at $10 or more,” Wendy’s employee Solo Littlejohn told Truthout, explaining why he went on strike with fellow fast food workers in Milwaukee. “I can’t think of a job that shouldn’t allow you to unionize.” He and his fellow strikers are demanding not just that they be paid at least $15 an hour but also that they be allowed to form unions. “The same rights that any other worker has,” he noted.

After the strike, he traveled to Chicago to protest in front of the McDonald’s headquarters, where more than 1,000 fast food and other service workers protested. “Hopefully our demands are met,” he said. “It’s just so sad that we have to come out and protest like this for something I think we deserve.”

Fast food workers were also on strike just a month ago, when McDonald’s employees walked off the job in 10 cities across the country to protest what they say is the company’s inaction in addressing sexual harassment.

But now workers are hoping to spread their influence beyond corporate headquarters. Organizers are going from strike lines to door knocking, planning to canvass across California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin ahead of November’s elections.

Bleu Rainer’s first job after graduating high school 11 years ago was working at a McDonald’s. He immediately realized he couldn’t make ends meet on his pay, especially because he was trying to support his mother, who is a single parent. He moved from fast food chain to fast food chain, even moving states and eventually settling in Tampa, Florida, in search of better pay. And yet, he was still making less than $8 an hour. “That’s devastating,” he said. He wants to go to college and one day raise a family. But “there’s no way possible you can do that” on that kind of pay, he said.

Still, when a member of Fight for $15 first approached him while he was working at an Arby’s, he was skeptical. “I was like, ‘Y’all crazy,’” he recalled. “Fifteen dollars an hour? We barely make 8 dollars.” But the conversation stuck with him, and he remembered something his grandma had told him: “If you want something, you got to fight for it. Even if it sounds unreachable, if you feel like it’s worth a fight, it’s worth a fight.” So he signed up and started getting more and more involved.

He’s since left fast food and is now using the skills he learned working with Fight for $15 to be a community organizer. “With the Fight for $15, we focus on issues,” he pointed out. “Fight for $15 has given a lot of folks hope. It gave me hope.” The same applies as he registers people to vote and educates people about the issues. “Fight for $15 has made me a leader,” he said. “It has taught me unity, it has taught me that if one person is being treated unjust we’re all being treated unjust.”

“We’re really mobilizing a community of folks around the whole of Florida to understand the importance of voting and actually get them out to vote,” he said. He noted that his organization has registered tens of thousands of people to vote in six counties across the state.

The Fight for $15 movement is going to deploy members to canvass door-to-door to get people out to vote for candidates that favor higher wages and better union rights. “We’re drawing a line in the sand…. If you want our votes, we want our union,” Littlejohn said. “If you support Fight for $15, then we support you. If you support union rights for all, we support you.”

“We are about one month away from going to the polls and casting our votes,” he pointed out. “We’re all trying to flex our voting power, trying to show people you do have voting power and you do have a say. We’re here to get rid of corrupt officials who are anti-worker and anti-union.”

The movement needs to get political to get what it wants, workers say. “There’s no way you can talk about raising wages for [millions of] folks through the whole nation without it being political,” Rainer said. “Politicians and these big corporations have been playing hand-in-hand for the longest.” Fight for $15 wants to be a counterweight to that corporate power. “All our Fight for $15 members are out hitting the streets.”

“We’re just getting out there and letting people know that you do have a say in the matter,” Littlejohn said. “Not just as a fast food worker, but as a citizen. Not just as a union member, but as a member of this country.”

“Fight for $15 — we’re out there, we’re getting it done,” Rainer said.