Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) virtually joined McDonald’s workers in 15 cities in their strike on Wednesday to demand $15 an hour wages ahead of the company’s annual shareholder call on Thursday.
“Thank you to everyone who’s on that line in Durham, because you are doing exactly what you need to do to not only raise wages and create dignified work for yourselves, but, frankly, you’re doing this for the entire industry,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a live broadcast with advocacy organization Fight for 15. “You are inspiring workers across the country.”
McDonald’s workers in 15 cities — Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Kansas City, St. Louis, Raleigh-Durham, Fayetteville, Houston and Milwaukee — planned to walk out on Wednesday to fight for higher wages. Workers have also planned a demonstration in front of the company’s Chicago headquarters.
“I worked in the food industry. It is one of the most difficult but essential industries in the United States. We are nothing without food workers. Period,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “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.”
Fast food workers, and McDonald’s workers in particular, have been at the forefront of the movement for a $15 minimum wage since 2012, so Wednesday’s strike was the latest in a long history of such protests.
Though attempts by progressives and Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour have been axed by moderates and Republicans, Sanders pointed out that the movement has been successful in certain parts of the country. Cities like New York and Seattle and states like California have raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour in recent years.
“I want all of you to know,” Sanders said in the broadcast, “don’t think for one second that we are giving up on this fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage in the Senate. We’re going to continue that fight and, you know what? We’re going to win that fight.”
“When the average cashier makes about $9 an hour with no benefits and no union, that is not acceptable,” he continued. “The reality is what is most important is half the workers in America are living paycheck to paycheck. Millions are working for starvation wages.”
Last week, likely in an attempt to preempt the planned strikes, McDonald’s announced that it would be raising wages for its workers at the company’s corporate-owned locations.
The corporation’s pledge, however, fell far short of what workers are currently demanding. Only 5 percent of McDonald’s locations are owned by the corporation, the rest are franchises, so the vast majority of workers at McDonald’s wouldn’t be receiving a wage raise. The company also pledged to raise wages so that the average — not the minimum — wage at its corporate locations would be a mere $13 an hour, meaning many of its employees would still be making far less than the $15 wage that they are demanding.
“We’re not buying it, and we’re not falling for it.” said Ocasio-Cortez. “And I’m here to tell McDonald’s directly that you’re not going to do this as a PR effort and you’re not going to trick us into thinking that you’re raising your minimum wage to $15 an hour for all your workers.”
“If you want to look like you’re raising your wages to $15 an hour, then you should actually raise your wages to $15 an hour for every McDonald’s worker in this country, minimum. Minimum,” she continued. The lawmaker encouraged workers to keep fighting, vowing to stay by their side, and said, “We’re going to keep going until you get a union. We’re going to keep going until you get health care. We’re going to keep going until every worker is protected.”
Sanders pointed out the inhumanity of McDonald’s paying its workers such low wages when the company’s executives are raking in huge salaries and bonuses. “If they can pay their CEO $10 million, you know what they can do? They can pay their workers a living wage,” he said. “It’s gonna happen.”
Like Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders concluded by thanking the striking workers and the organizers with the movement. “You have already made history,” he said. “Five years ago, the idea of raising the minimum wage to a living wage was a radical idea. It is not radical today because of your efforts.”