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Fast-food worker wage protests spread to Detroit and St. Louis

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Similar demonstrations aimed at raising fast-food workers’ wages took place earlier in the year in Chicago and New York

A series of industrial protests hitting America’s gigantic fast food industry has spread to cities in the Midwest as workers from several national chain restaurants have gone out on strike for better pay.

On Friday in Detroit organisers were expecting at least 400 workers from at least 60 stores to come out and protest. Organisers said early actions had already seen restaurants, including several McDonald’s branches, a Long John Silver’s and a Popeye’s, forced to close by the attention of strikers.

The action comes a day after two days of similar protest in St Louis, Missouri, which saw 100 workers walk off their jobs at chains like Wendy’s, Domino’s and Jimmy John’s. It also follows similar actions in Chicago and New York earlier this year in what labour experts call the largest such disputes to ever hit the industry.

The demonstrations are aimed at highlighting a demand for a $15-an-hour wage and the right to form a union without fear of employer intimidation.

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Kenta Jackson, a 21-year-old shift manager at Church’s Chicken in St Louis, said she had been moved to join the protest due to the difficulties of making ends meet on her wage of $8.50 an hour. “I work 40 hours a week and still cannot get by. If I have three different bills I have got to make a decision which of them I can pay,” she told The Guardian.

The fast food strikes are the latest in a series of disputes which have struck some of the lowest paid sectors of the American economy. Last year retail giant Walmart was hit by a series of walkouts by some of its workers, who were also demanding higher pay. The firm’s supply chain, which often uses third-party warehouses, was also hit by industrial disputes.

Labour groups in the US have increasingly adopted the cause of workers as statistics show that the tepid US economic recovery has been fuelled by an increase in low-wage work. A survey by the National Employment Law Project last year revealed that though lower wage jobs had made up 21% of job losses in the Great Recession, they had also made up 58% of the jobs created by the recovery.

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In the St Louis area, local organisers estimate that some 36,000 workers toil in the fast food industry at wage levels which often still see them get government assistance to get by. “Increasingly, fast food jobs are the only options for St Louisans, but these workers can’t even afford to pay for rent, food and carfare. If the workers earned more, fast food workers would spend that money at local businesses here in St Louis and help lift our economy,” said the Rev Martin Rafanan, a local director of the campaign.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[Fast food worker at New York City wage protest via Flickr user peoplesworld]


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