Fast-Food Workers Walk Out Over Wages

President voices support; restaurant groups say protests orchestrated by unions


CHICAGO -- Fast-food workers in hundreds of U.S. cities staged a day of strikes and rallies on Thursday to demand higher wages, saying the pay was too low to feed a family and forced most to accept public assistance.

According to a Reuters report, about 100 workers in Chicago marched along Michigan Ave. with a large costumed Grinch, chanting: "We can't survive on $7.25." Protesters want the hourly U.S. minimum wage raised to $15 from $7.25.

In Washington, federal contract workers at McDonald's inside the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum walked off the job along with others throughout the city.

About 100 protesters picketing fast-food restaurants in freezing temperatures in Kansas City, Mo.

Workers attempted a similar strike in the summer, with mixed results--some restaurants were unable to serve customers, while others were not affected.

Thursday's protests were organized by groups such as "Fast Food Forward" and "Low Pay is Not OK" that have the support of labor union giant Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents more than two million members including healthcare, janitorial and security workers.

"These demonstrations are a coordinated PR campaign engineered by national labor groups where the vast majority of participants are activists and paid demonstrators; relatively few restaurant workers have participated in the past," said Scott DeFife, executive vice president, policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.

"The restaurant industry has been one of the few industries that continued to create jobs during the recession and economic recovery, offering opportunities to hundreds of thousands of new workers over the past couple of years.  Dramatic increases in a starting wage such as those called for in these rallies will challenge that job growth history, increase prices for restaurant meals, especially in the value segments, and lead to fewer jobs created. Business owners already face great uncertainty due to a lack of a clear economic plan from Washington and the health care law’s implementation. Calls to double the minimum wage only intensify the challenges faced by job creators."

Rob Green, executive director of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, also issued a  statement: "Today's protests against the foodservice industry, orchestrated by special interest groups on behalf of organized labor, are part of an ongoing effort to replace fact with fiction while ignoring simple truths.

"It is a well-studied and accepted fact that beyond teenagers and some part-timers, the vast majority of restaurant workers make more than the starting wage. Workers at the thousands of quick-service restaurant locations across the country are committed to their jobs and realize that these positions provide a foundation to develop skills and knowledge that lead to greater opportunities for advancement, within the restaurant itself or with future employers.

"Chain restaurants are a collection of small businesses in local communities around the country, and they are facing stiff economic headwinds resulting from laws like the Affordable Care Act and anticompetitive rules and regulations that penalize business and entrepreneurs alike.

"Choreographed street theater directed by Big Labor cannot replace thoughtful enactment of sound economic policies which will actually spur capital investment and create jobs."

In Washington, President Barack Obama expressed his support for the protesters. "We know that there are airport workers, and fast-food workers, and nurse assistants and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty. And that's why it’s well past the time to raise a minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office."

Click here to view the President's full remarks.