Oakland fast food workers fight for $15

Pub date December 10, 2013

It was a bad day for Big Macs, but a good day for workers.

Joining a nationwide day of action, a wave of over 100 protesters crowded into an Oakland McDonald’s on Jackson Street, urging fast food workers to join in the strike. Four employees participated, while others briefly joined the march outside.

Similar strikes were held in 100 cities nationwide, with workers in Detroit, New York City and more rallying to demand a livable wage of $15 an hour.

The national actions were led by labor unions, including Service Employees International Union, but locally it was led by men like Jose Martinez, a KFC worker who led a strike at that fast food establishment some time back. “It’s a movement for all fast food workers to come together and fight for our rights,” he said.

Oakland rapper, performer and music producer Boots Riley turned out in support of the fast food workers’ movement. “Fighting to raise wages of anyone helps everyone. A high tide raises all boats,” he told the Guardian. “You help make that profit, your labor is worth more than minimum wage.”

Inside, the fast food joint was bursting at the seams. “Markeisha! Markeisha! Markeisha!” the protesters screamed, bursting into cheers as the five-foot tall girl hobbled around the counter to join the strike. Markeisha, who did not want her last name used, said she tore her ACL a week ago tripping over one of her children’s toys. She can’t afford not to be at work though, and worked the register from a chair.

We asked if she was afraid to be on strike. “Afraid? Kind of,” she said. If she lost her job, “I wouldn’t have a way to pay my bills and support her family.” She felt it was an important thing to do, because she isn’t earning a living wage. After three years of employment, she’s finally making 50 cents more per hour because she’s training to be a shift manager, and can now expect an hourly wage of $8.50.

A statement on McDonald’s website noted, “Our owner-operators are committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed. We offer employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits.”

One worker the Bay Guardian interviewed described having to visit food banks to get enough food, despite working full time.

McDonald’s’ official statement also noted: “The events taking place are not strikes. Outside groups are traveling to McDonald’s and other outlets to stage rallies.” But four workers did join the Oakland McDonald’s protesters to participate in the nationwide strike, and together they poured into the adjoining parking lot, dancing and chanting.

The protest was organized as a coalition between a number of groups, including the ReFund & ReBuild Oakland Community-Labor Coalition, ACCE, EBASE, the East Bay Organizing Committee, UNITE-HERE Local 2850, OUR WALMART, SEIU 1021, and SEIU ULTCW.