Fast Food Workers Across The U.S. Stage A Walkout For Fair Wages

From low pay to lax overtime rules, fast food workers are protesting for an end to unfair conditions.

If you want fries with that, you might want to learn how to make your own. Starting today (July 29) fast food workers will stage strikes across New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Flint, Michigan—the latest chapter in a series of protests over the past year aimed at bettering labor practices and increasing wages in the notoriously low-paying industry.

In late 2012, 200 New York City fast food workers walked away from the fryers in protest, and in April, that number doubled—400 New York City workers went on strike, joined by fast food workers in four other cities who demanded $15 an hour wages and fair labor practices.

In May, progressive coalition Fast Food Forward released a report showing rampant wage theft throughout the fast food industry—out of 500 workers from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Papa John’s, 84% reported some form of wage theft, like working overtime without pay or lack of reimbursement for delivery workers’ gasoline. That same month, New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, announced his office would launch an investigation into the matter. Just this past week, five Seattle fast food workers filed criminal complaints against their employers for withholding wages illegally under Seattle law.

Taking away earnings from already meager paychecks comes in subtler ways as well. Fast Food Forward recently released a video about McDonald’s use of prepaid Visa and JP Morgan Chase cards as paychecks for their employees, showing all sorts of spurious surcharges, even for checking the balance on the account. Devonte Yates, 21, a cashier at a Milwaukee McDonald’s franchise makes $7.25 an hour, but the fees on his card take out $40 to $50 of his monthly earnings.

"That’s how we get paid every other Monday," Yates says. "The card has fees for everything you do. I swipe my card for everything, from buying a pack of gum to paying a phone bill. There’s a $0.50 charge every time you check your balance."

That $0.50 charge is significant when it’s coming out of a $350 monthly paycheck. Because Yates’ restaurant keeps him on call without regular hours, he says he has no way to pick up a second job, despite the fact that his store only pays him for part-time work. "At my store, if you try to close your availability, if you say you can only work a certain amount, [my supervisor] says you might as well not work there," Yates says.

When I reached out to McDonald’s for comment, I was told that because Yates’ store was operated by a franchisee, it did not reflect nationwide company employment practices. "I strive to comply with all laws related to employment and pay and work hard to provide a positive work experience for all my employees," Deborah Allen, the franchisee, said in a statement. She also said she did not force her employees to be paid by paycard. "At any time, any crew member being paid via pay card can ask to be paid by paper check," she said.

A new study put out by the National Employment law Project shows that positions like Yates’ cashier gig make up 89.1% of fast food jobs, but that these workers only make a median wage of $8.94 an hour.

"I’m going to continue to speak out on this, and I hope that people will understand that this is wrong. People should not have to go through this in order to get paid," Yates says. He is currently studying for a career in criminal justice, but making ends meet in the home he shares with his mother, a correction officer, and his 16-year-old sister, is rough. "If it wasn’t for the help of my family members, I’d pretty much be homeless."

Add New Comment


  • thx1138v2

    Paying $15 for a $7.50 job being done only makes $15.00 worth $7.50. See the definition of monetary inflation.

  • Curtis Champion

    If I remember correctly, wage varied dependent on age in Australia. This system seemed to work, as people with little education could still make a reasonable amount of money working at part-time job. I know from my experience in the retail sector that increased wage did account for harder/better quality work. 

    I agree that part-time jobs are no way to make a living, but most part-time employers don't offer full-time, or require an absurd amount of hours for you to move up. Some people don't have a choice but to work at these places, and shouldn't be punished because of it.

    There simply aren't enough "good jobs" out there for everyone to do. That, and people need to work in these sectors to provide everyone else with service. Saying it's just for teenagers quite disrespectful. 

    Anyone that has ever worked retail know that these are some of the most difficult and underpaid employment options out there. In Canada, you can make more on welfare than you can with part-time employment. I'd much rather see people being productive members of society than taking advantage of our low to no income welfare. 

    I blame the corporations and management of these organizations for treating their employees with little to no respect (respect equates to wage, quality of employment, flexibility of hours etc). I'm speaking from experience as someone who has worked in retail (5 years through highschool), factories (two years after) then back to retail (two years to pay off some education debt). I'm more than thankful my retail years are behind me.

    1. Higher wage. 
    2. More full time opportunities. 
    3. Flexible hours for people who need a second job. 
    4. Steadier hours and scheduled shifts rather than floating "on call" shifts. 

    That's what you need to fix the fast-food (and retail on a broader spectrum) industry. 


  • Martin Deschambault

    Good on them!  There's no reason why anyone should have to work and not even make enough to survive.  The dream is dead, America.  Time to reset and invent something new and better.

  • MealsReadyToEat

    Low-wage jobs at fast food restaurants are for teenagers to earn entertainment money. People who need to earn a living wage need to find a more proper job. Raising the wage on a simple job to $15 per hour is not the solution.

  • Americanmeltdown

    You want a fair wage? Then get the skills, and knowledge required to
    earn a fair wage.

    A fast food worker is not worth $!5 per hour to any fast food chain. I
    realize you do not have the ability to understand this concept. All you want is
    more, but you can't give more to warrant $15 per hour.  Just like housekeeping
    jobs, there is a ceiling on the wage for cleaning a room. Unskilled workers, high school
    students, college students, second income workers & retires take the fast
    food jobs.  If you fall into the unskilled category, then you have a problem if
    you do not see the need to better yourself.

    Should fast food places be forced to pay $15 per hour (they won't be) then
    their current  unskilled staff will be replaced by a more valuable worke who is worth $15 per hour.  The
    ff people should be grateful to have a job, but I do understand they are
    incapable of thinking through the situation.

    As a business
    person who takes all the risk to run my business, I'll shut the doors before
    government, unions or workers force me to do anything. 

    I'd fire you and hire
    someone who wants to work at what I can afford to pay.  It's not my fault you
    are an unskilled, whining worker.  I am fed up with the liberal loons trying to
    "force" the risk takers to play by their ill thought out agenda.  You are job
    destroyers, not creators.  smells of communist behind this strike. the communist are behind the travon martin demonstrations. they see an opportunity to get out there and make a stink.