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‘We can’t survive on $7.25’ chant local fast food protesters

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- A group of fast food workers joined a national movement to protest low wages.

Protests were planned in more than 100 cities on Thursday, which was organized to be a national "strike wave" against the $200 billion a year fast food industry, according to local organizers.

The Richmond group swarmed the McDonald's on Hull Street in south Richmond.  The group of protesters, around 50 in number, walked up to the outside window of the restaurant chanting: "We can't survive on $7.25!"

The federal minimum wage is $7.25, and protesters want to see that number raised to $15 an hour. Proponents of the movement also want fast workers to have the right to unionize.

More than half of fast food workers have to rely on public assistance programs since their wages aren’t enough to support them, a report found in October. 

According to a University of California Berkeley Labor Center and University of Illinois study out Tuesday, 52% of families of fast food workers receive assistance from a public program like Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

That’s compared to 25% of families in the workforce as a whole. The report estimated that this public aid carries a $7 billion price tag for taxpayers each year.

The numbers are based on publicly available data on public assistance programs from 2007-2011.

The median pay for the fast food workers nationwide is just over $9 an hour, or about $18,500 a year. That's roughly $4,500 lower than Census Bureau's poverty income threshold level of $23,000 for a family of four.

Officials within the restaurant industry have publicly responded to the protests, calling them a publicity stunt. Most fast food workers already make more than minimum wage, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Approximately 50 million Americans eat at fast food restaurants each day, which accounts for 25 percent of the population.

According to the publication The Daily Best, there are more than 274 fast food restaurants in Metro Richmond, or 134 restaurants per 100,000 people. That led to the Capital of the Confederacy being ranked as third fast food capital in the United States. The most prominent chain is Subway.

The movement began with a small walkout in New York City last year and has since gathered momentum. Strikes this past August drew fast food workers in 60 cities, organizers said.

The National Restaurant Association contends that the demonstrations are a "coordinated PR campaign engineered by national labor groups," and that "relatively few restaurant workers have participated" in past demonstrations.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said the events planned for Thursday "are not strikes," and consist only of outside groups "traveling to McDonald's and other outlets to stage rallies."

Industry officials have criticized the campaign, claiming increased starting wages will hold back job growth and increase prices.

The effort has drawn support from the Service Employees International Union, one of the country's largest, as well as activist groups. A petition that has drawn nearly 50,000 online signatures calls on industry leaders "to pay your workers $15 an hour so they can make ends meet and Americans can stop paying for the hidden costs of poverty wages."

In Congress, a group of 53 lawmakers sent letters Wednesday expressing support for higher wages to McDonald's, Wendy's, Domino's Pizza, Burger King and Yum! Brands, which operates KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

"We are proud to stand with workers who continue to fight for an economy that works for everyone," the officials wrote.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company is "committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed," offering competitive pay, training and the chance for advancement. Wendy's said it was proud to give entry-level employees "the opportunity to learn important business and personal skills so they can either grow with us or move on to another career."

Domino's rejected the "fast food" label, and said only three of its employees had taken part in the August protests, none of whom were scheduled to work at the time. The pizza maker said its delivery drivers make more than minimum wage with tips included, and that it serves as a second job for many employees who work only evenings and weekends.

"90 percent of our U.S. franchisees started as delivery drivers or at in-store positions," as did many other managers and corporate staff members, spokesman Tim McIntyre said. "We are a company of opportunity."

The other companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

President Obama also called out the plight of fast food workers in a speech Wednesday, saying they "work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty." He said it was "past time" to raise the minimum wage.

The rallies planned for Thursday follow protests last week at a number of Wal-Mart locations, where workers and activists have called on the company to grant workers more hours and pay full-time employees at least $25,000 a year.

CNN contributed to this report.


  • Richard Sutter

    It’s obvious they’re aiming high at $15/hour to try to make it to maybe have $10/hour in place. A second obvious is that the labor unions are trying to strangle us. Article assumes every (every, every) employee of a fast food chain is the main breadwinner in the household. Let’s pay teenagers who are learning what work is a wage far above their dollar contribution so that they learn what it’s like to be on the goverment dole. That will repair America.

  • RS

    In Switzerland, McDonalds workers do indeed make $15/hr.

    But in Swiss McDonalds restaurants, the small cheeseburger value meal with small fries and an 8 oz Coke (no refills) costs $16. And another 50 cents if you want ketchup for the fries.

    The bottom is ALWAYS the bottom.

    Low skill workers can not expect high skill wages.

    Sorry. These jobs are essentially paid internships to train young adults how to work, how to show up for a job, how to act towards customers, how to accept and follow instructions.

    It’s not a career. It’s not something to raise a family on. It’s a step up.

    But you HAVE to take the next step.

  • Coranne

    People need to learn that you can only earn high wages when you have something to offer to the work place. When you have little to offer in terms of skills, your pay reflects that. If you do not like it, then I would strongly suggest that you do something to better your situation that does not involve demanding something for nothing. Go learn a skill and be a productive member of society.

  • Ellen Soehngen

    Hmmm, if I do not eat fast food then I am supplementing those of you that do with my tax money for benefits so these workers can live. Plus you are eating junk food instead of good food. Maybe it would be a very good thing if McDonalds meals were $16.00 each. Maybe they could also put real food in those meals. Why should everyone have to pay to supplement these worker’s wages? This is not an even playing field here. McDonald’s profits are basically coming from my tax money. How is that fair exactly? Same with WalMart and other companies that are allowed to use our tax money for their workers. Prices should go up and taxes should go down.

  • Iam Neal

    $ 15/hour; $ 10/hour; $ 7.25hour – all too much for “minimum” wage jobs. A mimimum wage job is not designed to sustain a person or a family. If you are one of those that are attempting to sustain yourself; a family on a minimum wage job (or two of them) – you should have listened to your teachers in high school…Study, work hard, educate yourself and always strive for the highest and you just may be OK. If, on the other hand, you decided to take the “easy way out” – dropping out, barely making it by in high school…well…you have gotten OUT of life what you have put into it. I do realize there are exceptions out there…and for those folks I truly feel “their pain”…for the ones who are now crying b/c they were lazy earlier in life…well…you still have time to “gain a skill” that is worth more than…let’s say it how it is…a minimum wage job that STILL should be @ $ 4.25/hour.

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