When the Milwaukee Bucks arena opens its doors this fall, people who work in service jobs at the stadium will be on a path to $15 an hour and have the right to a union under a major agreement announced earlier this year.
Like many of the concessions workers at the Bucks arena, I also work with a team of people that cooks and sells food for a living. But because I work at McDonald’s rather than the stadium, I’m stuck getting paid barely more than minimum wage, and I have no voice on the job.
The Bucks leadership is setting a new standard for Milwaukee employers. McDonald’s and other fast-food companies should follow.
Ahead of Labor Day, I joined fellow fast-food workers in the Fight for $15 to call on McDonald’s and other fast-food companies in Milwaukee to meet the new standard of $15 an hour and union rights set out in the Bucks-style agreement. If it’s good enough for the Bucks, it should be good enough for McDonald’s.
Our community is struggling. We are the third-poorest major U.S. city – our poverty rate is 29 percent, almost double the national poverty rate – and one of the most segregated. Now, more than ever, Milwaukee workers need jobs that offer the right to a union and fair pay.
That’s why the Bucks agreement is so exciting: Roughly 1,000 Milwaukee workers, and counting, will soon earn $15 an hour and have union rights. People are rightfully celebrating this, because we need higher-paying union jobs in our city.
But it’s also true that thousands of jobs with companies like McDonald’s still pay minimum wage and make it incredibly difficult for workers to stick together in a union. Nearly 1-in-10 Milwaukee-area workers are in the food service industry. And we all deserve the same pay and benefits as future Bucks arena workers.
For those of us working at McDonald’s, we put in the hours and hard work – but we still live paycheck to paycheck. Making $9.65 an hour, I have to rely on government assistance. And I’m not alone: more than half of fast-food workers must depend on public assistance even if they work full time. And even with assistance, I can barely afford my rent, bus transportation and groceries, and there’s nothing left to budget or save. This is unacceptable.
McDonald’s can afford to pay its workers a living wage and respect our right to a union. It’s the second-largest employer in the U.S. and makes billions each year. And other major employers have recently made the move toward their own Buck-style agreements. Target, based in neighboring Minnesota, was the first major chain employing low-wage workers to raise its minimum wage to $15. Here in Wisconsin, UW Credit Union boosted its minimum wage to $15 an hour, too. The insurance giants Nationwide and Allstate both did the same.
If other major employers were to meet the Bucks-style standard, we’d see a meaningful boost in our city that needs it desperately. While it’s great to have good jobs at the Bucks arena, imagine if every worker at every McDonald’s were also earning a living wage and had the right to a union.
Fast-food giants like McDonald’s could be leaders, continuing a wave across the low-wage sector so the economy works for everyone in Milwaukee. Maybe if McDonald’s would adopt a Bucks-style agreement, concessions at Mitchell International Airport would follow. And on from there.
Lawmakers in Milwaukee should stand with workers as we demand the same good jobs and fair pay as the Bucks will provide. It’s the new standard, and McDonald’s needs to get with the times.
Jennifer Berry is a crew trainer at McDonald’s.
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