Joining a global campaign, fast-food workers and their supporters in Sacramento protested low wages early Thursday, saying their hourly pay must increase in order to make ends meet.
Backed by union supporters, dozens gathered at a McDonald’s restaurant at Arden Way and Howe Avenue, shortly after 6 a.m.
Among them was Shannon Workman, a young mother, who works part time as a cashier at a nearby Del Taco restaurant on Arden Way. Workman, who earns $8.25 an hour, said she supports herself and her child on her hourly wage.
“It’s not easy,” she said. “You have a hard time paying the bills. I’m in a lot of debt right now and I’m only 21.”
The early-morning protest was part of a worldwide campaign that organizers said was planned in 150 U.S. cities, as well as 33 countries on six continents. Supported by Service Employees International Union in this country, the campaign was launched in late 2012 to bring attention to the plight of low-wage workers, allow them to unionize without retaliation and get the public behind the idea of a $15-an-hour wage.
Organizers say workers across the country in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere walked off the job Thursday, including 20 from a restaurant in St. Louis that had to temporarily close as a result. But turnouts varied and the scope of actions planned for overseas also differed depending on the country. Images on social media showed workers demonstrating in places including Dublin and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
President Barack Obama has been working to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The current rate of $7.25 an hour translates to about $15,000 a year, assuming a person works 40 hours a week. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill raising California’s minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016.
Still, fast-food workers have historically been considered difficult to unionize because many are part-timers who don’t stay on the job for long.
“We are working people standing together,” said Bill Camp, executive secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council. “Everybody suffers when these workers don’t get enough money to spend.”
Businesses and industry groups say pushing the minimum wage to $15 an hour would hurt companies’ ability to create new jobs and could lead to higher menu prices and other economic impacts.
Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, vice president of global media for McDonald’s, said the company respects the right of employees to voice an opinion and to choose whether they want to unionize.
“If employees participate in these activities, they are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts,” she said. “We value our employees’ well-being and the contributions they make to our restaurants and thank them for what they do each and every day.”
Another fast-food worker, James Perez, 22, said he attended the Sacramento protest “to help myself and my fellow workers get a raise and get a union.”
Perez, who said he makes $8 an hour at a McDonald’s restaurant on Pocket Road, walks to work because he has no money to fix his car. He said some fast-food places employ people who lost good-paying jobs when their companies went out of business.
“They have to find a job and they will take one from the first employer that calls,” he said.
McDonald’s, which has more than 35,000 locations globally, said in a statement that the wage debate needed to take into account “the highly competitive nature of the industries that employ minimum wage workers.”
The National Restaurant Association called the actions “nothing more than big labor’s attempt to push their own agenda.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079. The Associated Press contributed to this report.