When hundreds of fast food workers went on strike in "only" 30 U.S. cities last March, as opposed to the thousands of workers in hundreds of cities that had previously taken part in the organized request to earn an actual living wage, I warned against thinking this was proof of a decline in the passion of the fight. This cause is too important and involves too many workers to simply die out like that.
Evidently, I was right. Later this month, fast food workers are gearing up to strike again. And this one's going to be a biggie.
On May 15th, workers in 150 American cities will leave their aprons at home and pick up their protest signs. But standing alongside them, in spirit at least, will be workers from thirty different countries spread across six continents. That's right: The fast food strikes are going global. And in doing so, it gives us a chance to see just how bad the U.S. workers have it.
Throughout the many news stories detailing the latest round of strikes was an explanation by a McDonald's worker in Denmark about why she was striking:
Louise Marie Rantzau, who is a McDonald's worker in Denmark, says she makes $21 an hour. She says she was surprised to hear U.S. workers have to fight so hard to make $15 an hour, and she says is "committed" to supporting their cause.
Look at that again: $21 an hour. That's not a typo, or because she's a manager, or because she just got a substantial raise for figuring out how to put even less chicken in the McNuggets or something. She makes $21 an hour in Denmark because that's the normal wage for an employee over 18 years of age.
The standard wage for the same position in America, no matter the age? $8.81. Or, if you want to do the math of what an average employee makes for 40 hours a week of taking orders and grilling burgers, it's a little under $18,500 a year before taxes. (And that's if the worker actually has the chance to work 40 hours a week, unlikely seeing as fast food chains tend to keep their employees from hitting that threshold so they won't have to pay additional benefits.) So then, just how is it that workers in other countries earn more than two times as much as their American brethren?
They have a union.
(Before we go on: It should be noted that while McDonald's gets highlighted in the fast food strikes, that doesn't mean other chains are off the hook. While there are examples of certain fast food companies respecting their workers -- In-N-Out being the prime example of this -- for the most part, they all fail to provide a living wage to their employees. McDonald's gets the focus in this particular piece because (a) they're the industry leader, and as goes McDonald's so goes the rest of the industry; and (b) in this particular case, they're the only franchise with a true global presence, meaning there's a valid point of comparison between what their workers earn here versus what they earn abroad.)
If you look throughout the rest of the world, fast food unions aren't all that rare. In addition to Denmark, McDonald's has worker unions in France, Finland, Switzerland, Germany and Norway. This isn't because the workers in those countries simply asked their local McDonald's reps for one. It's because they've been fighting for years to get recognized. (If you have some time, this history of McDonald's fighting attempts to unionize is worth checking out.) These kinds of things don't happen overnight. They take time. And maybe, now it's time for the American workers to get one.
Are these worldwide strikes going to make a difference in the plans of American fast food CEOs? That remains to be seen. But when overseas employees for American-based companies earn over twice as much as their American counterparts, and the CEOs of those companies earn 1,000 more than their employees, that's not a recipe for success. Something has to give, and it's going to be sooner than later.
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