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August 30, 2013

US Fast-Food Workers Strike for Higher Wages

by Brian Padden

Leading up to the Labor Day holiday celebrating the contribution of American workers to society, thousands of low-wage workers at fast-food restaurants and retail stores went on a one-day strike in more than 50 cities.  These protests are part of a labor union sponsored campaign to pressure the fast food industry to increase wages and allow workers to unionize

In New York City, several hundred restaurant and retail workers took to the streets to demand higher wages.

One of them, Tasian Edwards works for Burger King and says the national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which she earns, is not enough to support her family.

“I’m the oldest in the house.  And I’m the only one that can work right now, and $7.25 can’t feed my three siblings, including me and my mother," she said.

Organizers say workers in more than 50 American cities, including Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles, participated in one of the biggest worker protests in the country.  The strikes are part of a campaign backed by labor unions to demand a minimum wage of $15 an hour and the right to join a labor union.

Proponents of the fast food industry say low-wage jobs provide opportunities to students and entry-level workers who over time will move on to better jobs and higher pay. Imposing higher wages, they say, could backfire on workers.

“If employers are paying more, they either have to raise their prices, which means the workers' dollars are buying less, or if employers have to cut back on hours or employment, then people have less take home pay at the end of the day," said economist Michael Saltzman from the Employment Policies Institute.

But protest organizers say with so many manufacturing jobs migrating to low-wage countries like China, the fast-food industry is the only option for many unskilled American workers. 

Fast-food worker Derrick Langley said it's time for American workers to stand up for their rights.

“I’m aware that this might cause me to lose my job, but at the same time I’m fighting for something I believe in. I’m just not going to let somebody keep stepping on my toes after I keep realizing it hurts,” he said. 

Saltzman said tax credits already help poor working families, but many workers said they don’t want to rely on government assistance. While one-day strikes may not force the industry to change on its own, they could increase pressure on President Obama and Congress to raise the minimum wage for all.