When I spoke to food worker rights activist and author Saru Jayaraman following the last round of fast food strikes in August, there was a hint of escalation at the end of the interview. The general feeling from the strikes' organizers was that, no matter how great of a turnout it was -- and, really, it was, with thousands of workers across 60 cities taking part in the mass walk-out -- that was just the start. As Saru put it, "[I]t's just the beginning. The NRA [National Restaurant Association] is going to be put even more on the defensive in the years to come. It's a big deal because it's the beginning of something, not because it's the climax."
And this Thursday, we get one step closer to the climax.
As is the case with every sequel, the general hope is that it's more than what came before. While we've all been burned enough to realize this rarely happens with movie sequels -- I'm still reeling over the destruction of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise -- these strikes have been moving in one direction since the beginning: Bigger and better. What started out as a small walk-out with 200 workers in New York last November has grown into thousands of workers in over 100 cities walking off the job. At this rate, it will be a global phenomenon by next year.
The strikes, once again, will be held outside of McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Taco Bell, and, well, just about any place you can get a big helping of beef for less than a dollar. (In-N-Out workers, meanwhile, won't be participating for obvious reasons.) The goal, once again, will be to get corporation honchos to pony up $15 an hour to their workers.
While the number's more of a rallying cry than a legitimate request -- it's more than double the current minimum wage and nearly $4 over the current "living wage for one adult" standard in costly L.A. county -- it's not as if the CEOs can't find the money to pay somewhere near that. Especially in light of recent revelations regarding how fast food execs have been exploiting a tax loophole for years.
In short: A few decades ago, Congress put a $1 million cap on tax-deductible income for executive pay, meaning anything over that has to go through the proper IRS-collecting channels. Except, well, there's a big loophole called "performance pay." Explains the Salon article:
"This loophole quickly led to an explosion of 'performance-based' compensation, particularly stock options," writes Anderson, which "encourages executives to carry out short-sighted, reckless actions aimed at boosting stock prices in order to inflate the value of their own options."
Lots of complex financial machinations there, but the main gist is that fast food CEOs have been able to earn an extra, non-taxable $183 million over the past two years because of the exploitation of this loophole.
$15 an hour suddenly doesn't seem all that crazy of a request.
Thusly, whatever happens this Thursday, however large the walk-out numbers get, don't expect it to be the end. So says the president of the Service Employees International Union, Mary Kay Henry:
"I think we've totally changed the conversation about what these jobs are worth," Henry said. "These are no longer jobs being done by teenagers who need extra money. These are jobs being done by adults that can't find any other work."
Meanwhile, what can you, the non-food worker, do? If you're feeling in the activist mood, go ahead and grab yourself some poster board, take a Sharpie to it, and head on over to your nearest fast food strike on Thursday. Barring that, signing the MoveOn.org petition is a worthwhile effort, especially since the petition's wording relays just how these low wages affect us all:
A whopping 52% of fast-food employees' families are forced to rely on public assistance to put food on the table or see a doctor, because you pay them poverty wages. That means every single American is picking up the check for nearly $7 billion in tax dollars a year--while the fast-food industry reaps billions in profits.
Keep that cost in mind the next time you're on a road trip and looking for a quick bite to eat. Don't settle for the biggest, most colorful billboard near your exit. Something else worthwhile, and not part of the problem, is a quick Yelp search away.
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