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Fast-Food Workers Protest for Higher Pay, Unionization

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The fast-food industry, long resistant to union organizing efforts, is facing a fresh and high-profile push from workers.

Dozens of employees from leading chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC, reportedly walked off the job Thursday in New York City to picket their employers with demands to unionize and secure better pay of $15 an hour.

That’s more than twice the state’s minimum wage and nearly twice the $7.75-an-hour pay reported by KFC employee Pamela Waldron, whom CNNMoney interviewed. Fast-food workers told the news site they wouldn’t be able to live on their wages if not for other jobs they hold or a spouse’s higher compensation.

New York Communities for Change organized the fast-food protests in Manhattan. The group, which has posted a petition targeting Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, KFC, Taco Bell and Burger King, says it was the largest fast-food labor protest in history.

“History in the making!” Twitter user @MikePrysner wrote under this photo he posted on the social media site.

Twitterers, though, were divided on the walkout.

“Pay them a living wage!” Julia Jedynak (@JCJ417) tweeted, while @TheSoulfulVixen wrote, “Such spoiled brats. I mean, if u r not happy abt ur job, QUIT!”

Then there was ArguingWithDonkeys (@donkeyarguing), who warned: “Here comes the $20 whopper,” and Scott (@WSS_22), who tweeted, “What next, Give me, Give me, Give me.”

Organized labor over the years hasn’t been able to crack the low-wage fast-food industry. Two years ago, labor organizers narrowly lost a vote to unionize employees at 10 Jimmy Johns restaurants, QSR magazine notes.

Related: Inside Employee Motivation: Does Money Really Make a Difference?

Whether the walk-off in New York this week has impact remains to be seen. As the “Give me, Give me” tweet reflects, the action occurs in a politically-charged period -- post Occupy Wall Street and post Obama-Romney election fight -- of heightened class tensions.

NYCC organizing director Jonathan Westin told The New York Times that fast-food companies aren’t paying a living wage, forcing many employees to in New York to use public aid.

McDonald’s issued a statement saying, “McDonald's values our employees and has consistently remained committed to them, so in turn they can provide quality service to our customers. We have an open dialogue with our employees and always encourage them to express any concerns or provide feedback, so we can continue to be an even better employer.”

The burger icon said the majority of its restaurants “are owned and operated by independent business men and women who offer pay and benefits competitive within the quick service restaurant industry.”

International Franchise Association President and CEO Steve Caldeira said in a statement: “The franchise industry supports nearly 18 million workers and offers a path to business ownership for tens of thousands of Americans. We respect the rights of employees to unionize, but the playing field should be level to ensure they have all the information needed to make informed decisions while protecting employers’ rights.”

Related: 5 Ways to Reward Employees When Raises Aren't an Option



Dinah Wisenberg Brin

Written By

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has covered business, politics, healthcare and general news for wire services, newspapers, blogs and other publications.