Indy joins national protest over fast-food wages

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Fast-food workers in 50 U.S. cities, including Indianapolis, plan to walk off the job Thursday in an attempt to ratchet up pressure on McDonald’s Corp., Wendy’s Co. and others to raise wages.

Protests that began in New York last year are spreading to cities including Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Diego and Indianapolis, according to the Service Employees International Union, which is advising the strikers. The non-union workers are demanding the right to organize and wages of $15 an hour, more than double the federal minimum of $7.25. They now make $9 an hour on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By simultaneously targeting the largest chains, including Yum! Brand Inc.’s Taco Bell and KFC, Subway and Burger King Worldwide Inc., organizers want to force a sector-wide response.

“What the workers are trying to do is hold the corporations accountable,” said Mary Kay Henry, SEIU president.

In Indianapolis, protestors gathered at McDonald's near 16th and Meridian streets early Thursday. Protests were also expected at various restaurants in Circle Centre mall, but none were apparent late Thursday morning.

Nicholas Williams, a 28-year-old McDonald’s worker in Indianapolis, has been looking for a second job because the $7.35 an hour he earns isn’t enough to buy food, pay bills and afford the daily $4 bus pass to get to and from his job.

“There are no good jobs hiring out here, it’s only fast food,” he said. Williams, who’s cooked fries and grilled burgers at the restaurant for about 17 months, is planning to strike.

“They don’t treat us with respect and they don’t treat us fairly,” he said. “I’m not going to work on Thursday.”

If the minimum wage were raised to $10.50, fast-food restaurants would see about 2.7-percent higher costs, according to a letter signed by economists in July in support of raising the federal minimum wage. The eateries could absorb those cost increases by raising menu prices and by allowing low-wage workers to get more of the business’s revenue, it said.

The National Restaurant Association says seven out of 10 fast-food workers who receive entry-level pay are under 25. And only 5 percent of restaurant employees earn the federal minimum wage.

Protesters face long odds. Previous strikes haven’t had much impact, and turnout was thin. What’s more, under agreements with the restaurant chains, the franchisees who own and operate most fast-food stores in the U.S. typically are responsible for hiring and wages. While they can raise prices to offset higher costs, they’re already under pressure to pay rent and royalties to the restaurant chains at a time when consumers remain reluctant to eat out.

Even if you could get thousands of store operators to sit down and agree to specific wage increases, the most they could afford is a raise of $1 an hour, spread over three years, said John Gordon, principal of Pacific Management Consulting Group, who has advised franchisees for more than 30 years.

Companies could help stores pay more by lowering royalties they charge franchisees, something Wall Street won’t tolerate because it would put pressure on profit, he said.

“It’s just so complicated,” Gordon said.

Spokesmen from McDonald’s and Burger King said employment matters are franchisees’ responsibility. Wendy’s, Subway and Yum Brands didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“The story promoted by the individuals organizing these events does not provide an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald’s,” Ofelia Casillas, a spokeswoman for the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company, said in an e-mail.

Whatever the impact protests have on companies, concerns are growing over income inequality in the U.S.

While the U.S. economy has recovered for households with a net worth of $500,000 or more, the recession is continuing for other groups, an April Pew Research Center study shows. The data, which underscores the nation’s growing income inequality, shows that wealthy households boosted their net worth by 21.2 percent in the aftermath of the recession that ended in June 2009, while the rest of America lost 4.9 percent.

Congress last voted to raise the minimum wage in 2007, and President Barack Obama’s call earlier this year to increase it to $9 an hour has gone nowhere with lawmakers.

“Inequality has steadily risen over the decades,” Obama said Wednesday in a speech to commemorate the March on Washington civil-rights rally in 1963. “Upward mobility has become harder.”

Labor unrest is almost unprecedented in the fast-food industry. The advocacy group New York Communities for Change originally was trying to halt planned school closings in low-income neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Organizers shifted focus after hearing fast-food jobs were keeping local residents poor, said Jonathan Westin, the group’s executive director.

“People were really struggling,” said Westin, who spoke with people living in Brownsville, Crown Heights and Flatbush in Brooklyn. “Probably the biggest employer in our neighborhoods was the fast-food industry.”

The SEIU got involved last year, organizing meetings and providing funding, Henry said. The first strike happened in November, when about 200 workers walked off the job in New York. Earlier this year, strikes popped up in Midwestern cities, including Chicago and Detroit.

“Franchisees are not part of the problem,” Henry said. “We want to go to the source, which is the multinational corporations that own these franchise relationships.”

The SEIU hasn’t contacted the companies, she said.

While winning the right to organize and make $15 an hour is “hard to visualize in this day and age,” the campaign is “raising public awareness, and at the very least it’s putting raising the minimum wage higher on the agenda,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at University of California at Santa Barbara. “It’s important for social movements to set a new standard.”



  • Set Goals
    Person A: Studied in school, worked for minimum wage, didn't have a kid a young age, went to college, graduated, paid-off loans, makes good money and has savings/retirement accounts. Person B: Did okay during school, did graduate HS, didn't have a kid a young age, didn't go to college, works hard, makes decent money and has some savings. Person C: Dropped out of school, had a kid at 18, was never job motivated, makes little money and needs gov't assistance to get by (paid by Person A's taxes). Person A makes $75k+ Person B makes $35-50k Person C makes $15-20k (plus receives $20k in gov't subsidies...less taxes, food stamps, free health care, etc) Why should person A feel sorry for person C? Almost always personal decisions prevent C from being B, or B from being A. Not all C's can be A's...but most B's are pretty happy with their life. Stories like this are commonly about asking Goal Oriented people to pay more for people that never Set Goals.
  • Sheesh
    I realize that it's easy for the simple-minded to point at the poor and screech, "Lazy!" Facile arguments save you from the hard work of thinking about the complexity of poverty. Consider that my grandparents and great grandparents didn't go to college, yet they owned houses and cars, raised multiple kids, and retired comfortably. But they had a solid manufacturing industry, profitable family farms, successful local businesses. People weren't filling their WalMart carts every week with cr@p made in China and then stopping at McDonalds. The only "lazy" ones here are the ones who can't be bothered to think more deeply than an insult.
  • takers are makers
    The IndyStar boards must be down because these comments are some of the most horrendously written, off topic, mis-informed views I've read on the IBJ for, well, ever. From what i can stomach to read most of you are missing the larger point that these "jobs for kids" are all that is left for a working population that has been pushed out of the middle class due to the guys up top taking more and more and more while the people that make the stuff we buy (or eat) get less and less and less. I would think some of these Ayn-Randians that decided to post today would make more an argument about the tax structure being unfair but no, they get to be cloaked classists and racists instead.
  • Want more? Make yourself more valuable!
    These folks have been brainwashed by the "You owe me!" mentality promulgated by the liberal ethos. If you're working at Mickey D's to earn money for college, consider it a lesson in work ethic that will serve you well in life. If you work at Hardee's because you have no marketable skills since you became a single mom at 15, it's not the responsibility of Hardee's to compensate you for your bad life choices. You want to set the pay rates for your employer? Buy him/her out and have at it!
  • This is crazy...
    This is nuts. I worked ALL THROUGH college making $9.25 an hour, and living paycheck to paycheck so I could get through school and make a better life for myself. These people are NOT working towards making a better life for themselves. Out of college I still only made $13 an hour... It does not make sense to reward those who do not put time into making their own lives better. I UNDERSTAND jobs are limited and people have families.. but single parents make it EVERYDAY through school and with better jobs than working in fast food because they work hard, and dedicate themselves, whether that be through getting a degree or not. Bottom line - this is absurd, and I am not okay with a fast food worker making just about the same as me when I have a bachelor's degree AND student loans to pay for. I guess if they get a raise, everyone else should too.
  • Swiping a card?
    Swiping a card and taking money is just one job in a fast-food restaurant. Most of the rest are quite a bit more difficult. You should be aware of this and recognize the very hard work that these employees put forth to give us our extremely cheap food -- food that can cost us a little more in order to give all people a living wage.
  • That's not living.
    Anyone who thinks a fast-food job is supposed to be paying a living wage does not understand the concept of low-wage employment. These are not careers, these are entry-level jobs for teenagers and college students. Nobody (except progressives and fools, although I may be repeating myself) expects these jobs to pay "living wages".
  • Self Control
    We had fast-food when we were children in the 60's and 70's. We didn't eat every meal out. We ordered a reasonable amount of food. Even had shakes or pop. Guess what? We're not fat or obese. Never were! God gave us and everyone else free will.
  • Part time
    I hope the protesters know what their doing! More and more business will be cutting jobs to part time because Obamacare will put them out of business! There are cheaper options than forcing health care.
  • Living Wage
    The living wage varies from place to place. It is certainly cheaper to live in Indy than it is in New York or California. As a small business owner, I would be inclined to pay a living wage in my state. I currently pay $8 an hour in my retail store as a starting wage. I know people struggle at $8 an hour but frankly I don't make much more than that when you look at the number of hours I put in. Education is the key to people making better wages. This is a proven fact. I am concerned if the minimum wage is bumped to $15, or really anything above about $10, employers will make do with less people. And what will that do to the overall economy?
  • Overlooked
    I think that one of the issues being overlooked here is that fast-food establishments seldom have full-time employees, thereby avoiding having to pay and/or provide benefits. If one were to ask the workers what their schedules were like, you'd truly find very few full-time employees outside of the management staffing...
    • Jobs
      There are plenty of warehouse of factory jobs in Indianapolis that pay over $9-$14/hour with full time hours. They are desperate for good workers! If someone wants $15/hr to turn on a microwave and swipe a card at the drive- -thru window then their sense of entitlement is off the charts for not much work.
      • Better Health
        I couldn't help thinking that if there was a massive walkout of fast food employees to the extent that the "resturants" might be shut down for a time can't be anything but a good thing for the general health of the public. Seemingly everyday we read how the "food" dispensed in these places is bad for us. So, if there is a massive strike, then perhaps the nation will be saved.
        • 40 hours of work should equal a Living Wage
          The point is the 40 hours of work at $7.55 will not allow a person to support themselves without relying on help from family or help from the government. If you really want to stop paying for welfare -- support a Living Wage!
          • Want a raise?
            Great idea...in America you can get another job which pays more! These are entry level (give high schoolers back their jobs) positions. Businesses are desparate for reliable, honest and motivated employees. Also, these are fast-food franchises...also, small businesses. As a small business owner, I know very well times when we don't pay ourselves. Our family will be eating fast food all day today!
          • Not Everyone is Made For College
            Since when have we lived in a country where your only two choices are poverty or college? We are the richest country in the world and I don't see why anyone working a full-time job should live below the poverty line. The poverty line needs to be the minimum yearly wage for full-time workers.
          • LOL
            Maybe they deserve to make more than they do now, but $15 an hour is absurd! If they wanted to make more than $7.35/hr., then perhaps they should have considered a college education like many of the rest of us. If they deserve $15, then I deserve $40.

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            1. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

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