First, New York. Then, Chicago and St. Louis. And on May 10, Detroit. Fast food workers nationwide, poor, upset and disgusted by the huge contrast between fast food CEOs’ pay and their minimum-wage, no-benefit jobs, are walking out of their restaurants by the scores.

They’re taking their protests to consumers with campaigns in the streets of the nation’s big cities. In Detroit, around 500 walked out.

And workers racked up an immediate win in St. Louis when their two days of protests forced one chain, Jimmy John’s, to remove an abusive manager, the St. Louis Labor Tribune reported.

The workers, at fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, Jimmy John’s and KFC, demand living wages – virtually double the minimum wage – along with the right to unionize, and benefits on the job. A group of McDonald’s workers, in Syracuse, N.Y., took another step that will get employers’ attention: They sued, saying their bosses illegally cut overtime.

The walkouts drew union support, from the Service Employees, which is providing funds, and from the St. Louis Labor Council, whose leaders and members marched in solidarity with the fast food workers.

In Detroit, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the second-longest-serving member of Congress and a longtime labor ally, joined the workers’ picket line. Conyers is no fool: The informal organization of Detroit fast food workers, D15, says there are now more fast food workers in the Motor City than there are auto plant workers.

“Detroit fast food and retail workers have come together to…fight for fair wages and the right to form a union without interference,” the group’s website says. “We represent workers from more than 50 employers – food and retail – who are making tremendous profits, but do not pay employees like us enough to support our families and to cover basic needs like food, health care, rent and transportation.

“There are now more than 50,000 fast-food jobs in the Detroit metro area, more than twice as many as in the auto-manufacturing sector. Fast food jobs are projected to grow by 12.3% in the area by 2018 – more than twice as fast as the projected growth rate of the region’s workforce as a whole. But these jobs are the lowest-paying in Detroit, with many workers earning Michigan’s minimum wage of $7.40 or just above it.

“These are billion-dollar companies that can afford to pay their employees better. When workers join together and are paid a living wage, not only will it strengthen the economy but it will also reduce crime in our neighborhoods.”

One report said McDonald’s in Detroit went out and hired jobless people to come in and try to operate the restaurants, to counteract the strike – but the workers they hired joined the strikers, instead. Other chains had no official reaction to the strikes.

In St. Louis, the Jimmy John’s manager’s actions came to public attention due to the new community campaign supporting fast food workers seeking to win a wage raise, job respect and health care and the right to join a union without fear of retaliation.

More than 100 fast food workers, joined by several thousand supporters, conducted the strike there of the national fast food outlets. Their campaign exposed the fact that the Jimmy John’s manager routinely humiliated workers by forcing them to degrade themselves publicly by holding up embarrassing signs:

• After a busy lunch shift, worker Rasheen Aldredge was made to hold up a sign which read: “I made three wrong sandwiches,” and then the manager snapped a picture of him.
• Another worker was made to hold a sign stating, “I was more than 13 seconds in the drive thru.”
• Others are disciplined for trivial incidents with the write-ups displayed publicly.
• Workers are routinely called in to work and then made to go home without pay.

Before each strike, a St. Louis clergy member informed targeted store managers of the planned protests and of the workers’ right to strike without fear of retaliation.

“Your employees are striking for a living wage. They have a right to do so. We expect no retaliation. If there is, we will be back, in greater numbers,” the Rev. Martin Rafanan told the human resources manager for one Wendy’s, where six workers joined the picket lines.

“You’re creating a change not only in the fast food industry, in the jobs you represent, but in the labor movement and in the City of St. Louis and in St. Louis County. We’re making a change and you all are going to make a difference,” St. Louis Labor Council President Bob Soutier told one large group of striking fast food workers.

The Syracuse workers, including one fired – probably illegally — for protesting the practice to his boss, are suing the firm’s franchises there for shorting their paychecks by denying them the overtime they earned. The Syracuse McDonalds store managers, workers say, doctored their time sheets so the workers were shown as toiling no more than the standard 8-hour day, even though they routinely worked longer, and through their lunch periods.

This article was written by Press Associates, Inc., news service and the St. Louis Labor Tribune.

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