Labor organizers are turning up the heat on McDonald's and other fast-food companies to raise worker pay, with protests set to spread to more than 30 countries today.
The demonstrations build on a campaign by unions to bring attention to the plight of low-wage workers and get the public behind the idea of a $15-an-hour wage. Businesses say significant wage increases would hurt their ability to create jobs.
One of the protests was at the McDonald's at 1520 W. Kennedy Blvd., west of downtown, where about 50 people gathered early this morning. About 7:30 a.m., the group broke up after migrating across the street to a Wendy's.
The group carried signs and toted a life-size puppet depicting the restaurant chain's mascot clown, Ronald McDonald. A sign that reads “Poverty Wages: I'm Loving It” was hanging on the puppet.
The protests, which began in late 2012, are being backed by the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million members. Organizers have intensified actions over the past year to keep the issue in the spotlight. In March, for instance, protests called attention to labor practices they say deprive workers of their rightful wages, such as the denial of breaks and overtime pay.
The campaign has captured national media attention at a time when the gap between the rich and poor has widened, and pay for CEOs has come under greater scrutiny. It also comes as President Barack Obama works to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The current rate of $7.25 an hour, which was last raised in 2009, translates to about $15,000 a year for a full-time job.
In Florida, the minimum went up 14 cents this year to $7.93 per hour. It's $4.91 for tipped employees.
Protest turnouts have varied widely in the U.S., and the actions planned for overseas also differed depending on the country.
Last week, workers and union representatives from countries including Argentina, China, El Salvador, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom had met in New York City to strategize for the first day of global actions. The meeting was led by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations.
In a statement, the National Restaurant Association called the actions “nothing more than big labor's attempt to push their own agenda.”
The industry group said that rather than “demonizing” companies, the focus should instead be on “increased access to education and job training opportunities.”
A statement on McDonald's website reads:
“At McDonald's, we offer part-time and full-time employment, benefits and competitive pay based on the local marketplace and job level. McDonald's and our owner-operators are committed to providing our respective employees with opportunities to succeed, and we have a long, proven history of providing advancement opportunities for those who want it. We invest in training and professional development that helps them learn practical and transferable business skills whether at McDonald's or elsewhere. It's important to know approximately 80 (percent) of our global restaurants are independently owned and operated by small business owners, who are independent employers that comply with local and federal laws.
“This is an important discussion that needs to take into account the highly competitive nature of the industries that employ minimum wage workers, as well as consumers and the thousands of small businesses which own and operate the vast majority of McDonald's restaurants.”