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Michigan fast-food workers join international call for a $15 wage


 Fast-food strikers rally and protest at McDonald's restaurant on Grand River Blvd. and Livernois in Detroit, May 15.

Fast-food strikers rally and protest at McDonald’s restaurant on Grand River Blvd. and Livernois in Detroit, May 15.

Worldwide movement grows with protests in nearly three dozen countries on six continents

Nine fast-food workers who spontaneously walked off the job at a Detroit McDonald’s the morning of May 15 were among hundreds of fast food workers in Michigan and their supporters rallying for a $15 hourly wage. Protesters also rallied for the right to form a union without interference. 

While high profile morning protests and strikes took place at McDonald’s restaurants in Pontiac, Lansing, Detroit and Flint, smaller walkouts happened in at least two dozen Michigan cities, organizers said. Workers from all the major brands — from Subway to Burger King to Wendy’s — joined in the worldwide rally for wages that took place in 150 cities nationwide and at least 33 countries.  

At the McDonald’s on Detroit’s west side in a second wave of protests, hundreds protested for some 90 minutes on the sidewalk, before marching around the building in the drive-thru lane. A manager was called in to staff the store due to the walkout, but her newly striking coworkers got her to change her mind.

 A Detroit police car trailed the group in the drive-thru line, blaring his siren as a harried store manager looked on. Protestors then took over the drive-thru at neighboring Subway, Wendy’s and Burger King restaurants, before closing out with a prayer and a chant of, “We’ll be back!”

“There’s strength in numbers and in staying power, and today we showed again that we’re going to fight these corporations until we win,” said Pastor W.J. Rideout III, who took part in Thursday’s protests. “From wage theft to low wages, this industry needs to fix the way it treats its workers.”

Michigan is one of three states where class action lawsuits against McDonald’s for wage theft were filed in March. The suits ask that McDonald’s, which earned $5.6 billion in 2013, pay back the stolen wages and stop its illegal theft of workers’ pay.

Shelly Ligen, a Burger King worker, said that she has lost wages by being asked to work off the clock and by being charged for breaks she wasn’t given.

Earlier in the day, more than 200 protestors at a west side McDonald’s circled the store, including walking through the drive through. Several potential customers at Flint and Pontiac McDonald’s changed their minds about ordering food, or honked their horns in support as they passed by. 

In the U.S., strikes took place from Oakland to Raleigh, including the first-ever walkouts in Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia and Sacramento. Around the world, workers held major protests including in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Malawi, Morocco, New Zealand, Panama, and the United Kingdom.

A campaign that started in New York City in November 2012, with 200 fast-food workers walking off their jobs demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation, has since spread to more than 150 cities in every region of the country, including the South — and now around the world. The growing fight for $15 has been credited with elevating the debate around inequality in the U.S. When Seattle’s mayor proposed a $15 minimum wage earlier this month, Businessweek said he was “adopting the rallying cry of fast-food workers.” 

The movement is challenging fast-food companies’ outdated notion that their workers are teenagers looking for pocket change. Today’s workers are mothers and fathers struggling to raise children on wages that are too low. And they’re showing the industry that if it doesn’t raise pay, it will continue to be at the center of the national debate on what’s wrong with our economy. 

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, McDonald’s said worker protests might force it to raise wages this year. With shareholder meeting season upon us and a recent report showing the industry has by far the largest disparity between worker and CEO pay, scrutiny on fast-food companies is bound to intensify. USA Today called the growing worker movement, “the issue that just won’t go away” for the fast-food industry. 

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