Shoving french fries into a small box. Preparing sandwiches according to a picture provided by a corporate office. Tapping selections on a screen and taking payments. Are these actions worthy of $15 an hour? According to the thousands of picketers demanding a pay increase every week across America, they certainly should be.
Just over a year ago, fast food workers dropped their aprons across several U.S. cities to fight for fair wages. While the notion of making $15 an hour sounds appealing, the Fight for $15 movement isn’t just vying for higher pay — they want lower wage employers to allow unionization.
Small groups disbursed in some Midwest cities, leading to over 100 arrests and zero productivity. But it’s the 1,000 workers that descended upon McDonald's corporate office in Chicago that espouses what this movement is about.
Corporate profits are rarely affected when one-day strikes take away workers. When Fight for $15 organizes these rallies, it’s public awareness they’re looking for — and are receiving.
How the movement started
In 2012, two hundred fast food workers dropped their uniforms and picked up signs to fight for $15 hourly wages across New York City. Today, the movement consists of thousands of workers in traditionally low wage jobs, such as home health aides, airport workers, fast food workers, child care teachers and aides, adjunct professors — essentially, any underemployed wage earner nationwide.
The movement’s premise is that McDonald’s and other billion-dollar chains are profiteering without making wages and much-needed benefits available to the “little guy”. By increasing wages and allowing unions to thrive in these high-pressure environments, workers will be given a fair shake at profit sharing, better health care, and a living wage.
Despite backlash from business owners and entrepreneurs who believed $15 an hour was “unwinnable”, The Fight for $15 has successfully raised the wages of 20 million and counting, many whom are either making over $15, or are on their way toward that elusive figure.
The one victory this movement hasn’t enjoyed is union recognition.
Will unionization ever happen?
Retail, for one, thrives because numerous employees contribute to profitability by virtue of irregular schedules and unpredictable hours. Parents working at retail capacity already struggle to pay rent, have difficulty securing child care, and often resort to using state-funded healthcare since full-time employment — not always extended to service employees — is the requirement to receive health care.
The difficulty in getting corporations to recognize unions was thought to swing when Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled McDonald’s corporation shared joint liability with the franchises they control, although the Trump-led NLRB decided to strike that ruling, which makes oversight of franchises and their corporate parents more difficult.
Even with 62 percent of Americans favoring unions, striking seems to only be scratching the surface. Federal minimum wage increases could also shut down striking workers since the main priority of these picketers is receiving a living wage.
With continuous effort of such movements as Fight for $15, union favoritism may reach high enough to alert corporations that if they intend to keep profiting off low-wage earners, the workforce will no longer support them.
Unions give the American worker a backbone. A platform where equality thrives, fair treatment and an equal share of corporate profits can be realized. Indeed, 20 million people now have a better chance to take care of their families — but we’re still a ways from unionization of service professions.