Fast-food workers across the United States began a 24-hour strike in nearly 100 cities on Thursday to protest low wages. The employees are calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The current $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, set in 2009, amounts to only $15,000 a year for a full-time fast food worker—seen by many as less than a living wage.
Nearly 100 protesters gathered in a McDonald’s in New York City this morning chanting “we can’t survive on $7.25,” before being removed by police. According to a Burger King employee, managers warned their employees that those participating in Thursday’s protests would be denied work shifts. The National Restaurant Association has meanwhile dismissed the protests as a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”
President Barack Obama has indicated that he would support a Senate measure to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which could come up for a vote later this month. However, such a bill would face substantial opposition from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The fast food industry has faced increased scrutiny this year, given rising income inequality in the U.S. and the fact that part-time work has constituted most of the job growth in the restaurant sector since the global recession. Some employers intentionally limit employees’ work hours because they would be required to provide health care for full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act.
While fast food workers are not typically unionized, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has strongly supported the effort to increase the federal minimum wage over the last year.
When the Chilean government made its initial proposal early last month to increase the monthly minimum wage to 193,000 Chilean pesos ($390.53), it may have felt it was already conceding too much ground to the demands of Chile's workers union: the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (Central Workers’ Union—CUT). It signified an increase of 6 percent from the previous minimum wage of 182,000 Chilean pesos ($368.60).
It has been a series of back-and-forth negotiations that saw arrival at this figure, with an original initiative proposed by the government in congress on June 19 for a minimum wage of 191,000 Chilean pesos ($386.48). After further discussion in the House of Representatives, the figure was amended to 193,000.
Despite the significant jump, the new minimum wage resulted in significant backlash from the CUT and politicians concerned with the lower class. It underwent further discussion last Thursday, with the proposal passing a vote in the Senate to undergo further debate in the House of Representatives last Tuesday.