News Column

Fast Food Workers Seek Higher Wages

Aug 30, 2013
fast food

Fast-food workers in dozens of U.S. cities walked off the job Thursday in their largest round of protests, yet, seeking higher wages for their jobs.

Similar protests organized by unions and community groups over the past several months across the country have drawn attention to fast-food "McJobs," known for low pay and limited prospects.

Thursday's effort to stage a nationwide day of protest by thousands of workers reached about 60 cities including New York, Chicago, Detroit and Tampa, organizers said. But the turnout varied significantly, with some targeted restaurants operating relatively normally and others temporarily shutting down because they had too few employees.

The protests did not filter down to Miami or Fort Lauderdale.

In New York, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a candidate for New York mayor, joined about 300 to 400 workers and supporters Thursday in a march before the group flooded into a McDonald's near the Empire State Building.

At a Wendy's in New York, about 150 workers and supporters stood outside blowing whistles, beating drums and chanting, "We can't survive on $7.25."

There were no customers inside.

In Detroit, the dining area of a McDonald's on the city's northwest side was shut down as workers and others protested outside.

Participating workers, who are asking for $15 an hour and the right to unionize without interference from employers, still represent a tiny fraction of the industry.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which works out to about $15,000 a year for full-time employees.

Advocates for a higher minimum wage note that jobs in low-wage industries have led the economic recovery. That makes it crucial that those jobs pay enough for workers who support families, they say.

Yet the restaurant industry says it already operates on thin margins and insists that sharply higher wages would lead to steeper prices for customers and fewer opportunities for job seekers.

Burger King Corp., based in Miami, defended its position on compensation.

"Burger King Corp. and its franchisees support and invest in the thousands of restaurant team members across the system," the company said in a statement. "Burger King restaurants offer compensation and benefits that are consistent with the [fast food] industry."

The company added that it does not make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that own and operate the vast majority of its U.S. restaurants. And it said that all Burger King employees and their families are eligible for college scholarships through the Burger King McLamore Foundation, to encourage further growth and education.

The quest for better pay comes as the White House, some members of Congress and economists seek to raise the federal minimum wage. But most proposals are for a more modest increase, with President Barack Obama suggesting $9 an hour.

While there were no walkouts or protests in South Florida, fast food employees here are affected by the same low wage issues.

On Thursday, customers grabbing lunch at Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's in Doral were somewhat mixed on the wage question.

Most were sympathetic with the low-wage earners.

"I obviously think they should make more," said Jeff Lieberman, 39, a mortgage broker from Doral.

"I think minimum wage is so low for any job, whether this or any other," added Lieberman, as he ordered a double cheeseburger and fries in the drive-through lane at the Burger King at Northwest 41st Street and 114th Avenue.

Eddy Valdes, 34, of Miami, who works for UPS, agreed.

"Give them as much money as they want," he said after eating at Burger King, adding that he should make more money too.

Nearby, at McDonalds', Marcos Leyes, 31, of Miami Lakes, a kitchen installer, wasn't sure, but decided that the workers should earn more "to keep them happy. I would say at least 10 bucks," he said.

Yet a former McDonald's employee felt the job did not warrant a salary increase.

Rodrigo Rios, 21, worked at the McDonald's on Northwest 41st Street for a couple of months after dropping out of high school.

He was 18 and made $7.25 an hour.

"I think that is overpaying for that job," said Rios, who has since earned his G.E.D. and now works as a waiter at an Italian restaurant, which requires more effort and skills.

Down the street at Wendy's, Dennis Holtery of Coral Springs, who works at the U.S. Southern Command, said he believes fast food wages are in line with the work.

"To me, it's meant to be an entry level job to gain some real life experience," said Holtery, 39, after getting a Baconator and Coke to go.

It's out of line, he said, "to expect a mid-level wage for an entry level job."

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.

Source: (c)2013 The Miami Herald. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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