Fast-food worker Tim Roach has been doing some arithmetic and the numbers don’t add up to fairness.
Roach works at a Wendy’s in West Allis for $7.45 and gets 40 hours a week if he’s lucky.
That is not a living wage for the 21-year-old man, who travels to work from his residence on the North Side of Milwaukee to the restaurant via bus, a commute that can take four hours round-trip.
So on Sept. 4, Roach joined other fast-food workers in the Fight for $15 day of action. He was a first-time striker, walking off the job for fair wages and the right to unionize without fear of retaliation.
Fast-food workers with Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Hardee’s and more demonstrated in more than 150 U.S. cities, including Wausau, Madison and the Milwaukee area.
In some cases, workers, with support from labor leaders, clergy, community activists and elected officials, staged civil disobedience demonstrations that resulted in arrests. U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, was among the two dozen protesters arrested in the Fight for $15 sit-in outside a West Milwaukee McDonald’s.
Moore, in a statement through her communications director, said, “I take great pride in supporting Milwaukee workers as they risk arrest in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow for their families.”
In Madison, police arrested at least seven people.
Other arrests took place in Detroit, Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami.
Organizers said thousands of workers and allies participated in the actions.
“It’s time to raise the pay of fast-food workers and everyone earning a low wage in this country,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, who said he stood in solidarity with the demonstrators. “Companies should pay their workers fair wages and put more money in the hands of consumers to help strengthen our economy. These companies are super-sizing their profits while their workers are struggling to make ends meet.”
Just days before the demonstrations, the Fight for $15 got a boost from President Barack Obama, who spoke at a Labor Day celebration in Milwaukee. He again called for Congress to raise the minimum wage — various measures would increase the base wage from $7.25 an hour, which is what Roach started at about a year ago, to $10–$15.
A minimum-wage worker on the job 40 hours a week can earn about $15,000 a year, and that’s generally without benefits.
“I work hard. I exhaust myself and I don’t get paid enough to live a comfortable life,” said Roach, who handles a range of tasks at the restaurant.
He’d been attending a culinary school until he had to give that up to work as many hours as he could get. “I need 40 hours a week to survive,” he said.
At $15 an hour, Roach said he could pay his bills and maybe further his education.
The fast-food campaign has the support of major unions at the national level, such as the Service Employees International Union, and grassroots groups such as Wisconsin Jobs Now! at the regional level.
The day of action drew the attention of consumers to the situation of the fast-food worker at the counters and in the kitchens.
And the campaign drew the attention of workers to unions, and the possibilities and benefits of organizing.
“It’s a movement that I believe in,” Roach said. “It is a movement to better ourselves economically, to better our situation, but also to better our whole economy. … It’s a movement to make our whole society better.”
On the Web…
Wisconsin Jobs Now: http://wisconsinjobsnow.org
Service Employees International Union: http://www.seiu.org
By the numbers
In the latest Pew Research Center on jobs and the economy, 56 percent say their family’s incomes are falling behind the cost of living.
• 45 percent have experienced one or more serious hardships in the past year.
• 58 percent say jobs are difficult to find.
• 67 percent say the economy is recovering, but not so strongly.