Getting a Big Mac for dinner or buying a shirt at the mall on Thursday may mean crossing picket lines of chanting workers.
Tampa is one of 50 U.S. cities where labor organizers plan strikes on Thursday among fast-food and retail workers, calling for at least $15 in hourly pay, plus the right to form unions — part of a growing nationwide trend of worker protests that began in cities such as New York and Chicago.
Companies targeted in past strikes include McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC, plus retail stores such as Macy's, Sears, Victoria's Secret and Walgreens.
“Our country's fastest growing jobs are also the lowest paid, slowing the recovery and hurting our economy,” according to a statement from labor organizers. “While the fast-food industry is making record profits, its workers are forced to rely on public assistance just to afford the basics.”
McDonald's has borne the brunt of many of these strikes, but local McDonald's operators referred all questions on the topic to the McDonald's corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., which has not yet responded to requests for comments.
According to organizers, they plan a peaceful protest and rally, beginning at 4:30 p.m. at a Wendy's location at 1507 E. Fowler Ave., and then traveling to about a half-dozen other fast food restaurants.
Despite the common conception that Florida is a “Right to Work” state where employees can be fired for any reason, that's not really the case, and fast-food workers have protections while protesting, said David Linesch, a labor lawyer in Palm Harbor. The term “right to work” merely means a person can work in a company where a union is present, and retain their position without paying union dues.
“There are situations of 'employment at will,'” he said, “where a person can be fired for any reason whatsoever.” But there are important exceptions, such as race, gender or if a person is engaging in federally protected activity — like union organizing or staging a protest over a common issue among co-workers, such as for wages or working conditions.
“There is a growing sentiment that workers are being exploited with low wages, and few to any benefits,” he said. “That's becoming an opportunity for unions to organize.”