Fast-food workers demanding $15 per hour are planning yet another strike – and this one could be the biggest yet.
Thousands of workers from chain restaurants including McDonald's, Burger King and Pizza Hut plan to go on strike this Thursday, reports Bloomberg. With strikes planned in 150 cities, this could be fast-food workers' largest national protest yet.
Demonstrations calling for wage boosts for employees at fast-food chains began in late 2012. The International Franchise Association (IFA), an industry trade group, has stated that past strikes have done little to disrupt service at fast-food restaurants. Nonetheless, protesters have managed to capture major media coverage. Over the last two years, the movement has brought national attention upon the issue of minimum wage, with a special focus on how much fast-food chains pay workers.
Workers in support of the strike argue that their employers have failed to pay overtime or provide rest breaks, and offer scant opportunities for upward mobility. Even working full time, some employees claim it is impossible to make enough money to support themselves and their families.
Backed by labor groups such as the Service Employees International Union, workers have landed some victories as individual cities and states have raised their minimum wage. Seattle raised its minimum wage to protestors' asking price: $15 per hour, almost twice the national minimum wage of $7.25.
However, these changes have not yet hit the paychecks of fast-food workers or the pockets of employers due to multi-year rollouts that give employers time to adjust. So, there's still no data showing how these paycheck boosts will affect employees and businesses. And, for fast-food companies and franchisees, the question of increasing employees' wages is more complex than tacking on a few extra dollars to everyone's salaries.
Franchisors maintain that employee pay is not a corporate concern. As employers do not deal with the day-to-day matters of hiring, firing or paying employees, for franchisors to decree a franchise-wide minimum wage may violate the franchise model, making franchisees nothing more than employees.
Meanwhile, franchisees argue that paying employees any more than minimum wage is impossible if they want to stay in business, as the fast-food industry's low prices and fixed costs keep profit margins slim.
Recent lawsuits have grappled with who would be responsible for increasing workers' wages. Seattle's new minimum wage law groups franchises with large businesses, putting the pressure on independent franchisees to increase workers' pay at an accelerated pace (a move that sparked a discrimination lawsuit from the IFA). In July, the National Labor Relations Board defined McDonald's as a joint employer in lawsuits against the company, a designation that could force the franchisor to take responsibility for workers' wages. Meanwhile, in other cases such as Domino's recent sexual harassment lawsuit, franchisees have been deemed completely independent of franchisors' control in employee matters.
Despite this, protestors' drive remains strong after nearly two years of demonstrations. And, whether workers succeed in getting a pay raise or not, the strike and the surrounding scrutiny of the fast-food industry is going to affect everyone in the business.