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Workers and advocates hold sit-ins and rallies in 150 cities to demand a living wage and the right to unionize

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PROTESTERS: Fight for fifteen!

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: On Thursday, September 4, over 100 fast food workers and supporters were arrested as strikes hit 150 cities across the country in the largest such action to date to hit the food service industry. Actions are continuing throughout the day, and hundreds more are expected to be arrested.

MARY COLEMAN, POPEYES EMPLOYEE: I’m demanding a living wage. And I’m shooting for–and a know we’re going to win it–$15 and a union.

NOOR: The fast food industry argues that increasing wage will drive up costs and lead to the loss of jobs. But many studies have shown this won’t be the case. Last year, a University of Kansas researcher found that McDonalds would only have to charge 68 cents more for a Big Mac to pay its employees $15 hour.

COLEMAN: Because it’s time for the CEOs and corporations to be known that $7.25 is just not enough to survive off.

NOOR: A recent report by the liberal think tank Demos found that while fast food CEOs are among the highest-paid workers in the U.S., the sector’s frontline employees are the lowest paid. In 2013, fast food CEOs made a thousand timtes more than front-line workers, who averaged just $9 an hour.

The day’s actions, coordinated by SEIU, began with sit-ins in New York’s Times Square, with dozens arrested. Some 50 were arrested in Detroit as workers blocked roads and were taken in handcuffs by police. In Chicago, 23 were arrested in front of a Burger King and Mcdonald’s location, with 500 supporters rallying behind them.

COLEMAN: A lot of my coworkers and fellow acquaintance has agreed to take this to
the streets, because they’re all so sick and tired of the poverty wages.

NOOR: Taking part in the strikes in Milwaukee is 60-year-old grandmother of six Mary Coleman. She has been working at her local Popeyes for more than a year and a half and still makes minium wage of $7.25 an hour.

COLEMAN Well, right now I’m living with my daughter and her two children. And it’s already a struggle for her with two children.

NOOR: Workers like Coleman say making $15 an hour would greatly improve their lives.

COLEMAN: I would be able to step out of my house with a proud face. I would be able to be happy to go to work. I wouldn’t be complaining about me not doing this and not doing that because of the pay [incompr.]

NOOR: Thursday nationwide actions, including the civil disobedience, are a dramatic escalation since the movement kicked off with dozens of rallies in New York in November 2012.

At a July conference, some 150 fastfood workers voted to endorse using civil disobedience as a strategy as a means to increase pressure on fast food chains and CEOs that have thus far rejected demands of the workers.

Also joining today’s strikes are health care workers, who are also calling for an increase of minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Stories like Coleman’s, who, again, is 60 years old and makes minimum wage, help dismiss the myth that most fast food workers are teenagers in high school and don’t have families to support. Studies show the average fast food worker is 29 years old.

One month ago, the National Labor Relations Board found McDonald’s does in fact hold substantial power over its employees’ working conditions in its franchise stories. If upheld, the ruling, which is currently under appeal, would hold the McDonald’s corporation accountable for unfair labor practices at individual franchises and will be a boost to organizing efforts.

From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.