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Thursday 16th
posted by Ben Chacko in World

Activists call for $15 an hour and union rights

McDONALD’S restaurants across the United States were targeted yesterday as campaigners demanded a decent wage and labour rights for fast-food workers.

The $15 and a union campaign, calling for a wage of $15 (£10.15) an hour and the right to organise, is spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Since its 2012 launch it has spread to a variety of other industries, including care workers, airport staff and university lecturers on part-time and zero-hours contracts.

But the fast-food focus was centre stage yesterday, with tens of thousands of campaigners taking part in demonstrations.

Fight for $15 organising director Kendall Fells said that McDonalds’s recent decision to announce its first ever national pay policy “shows the workers are winning.”

But the world’s biggest burger chain would remain a focus of the campaign, he said.

The policy has been criticised for failing to meet the $15 demand — merely introducing a starting rate pegged at $1 (70p) above the local legal minimum — and because it only applies to company-owned outlets.

Since around 90 per cent of McDonald’s restaurants in the US are franchised, most workers will not be included.

The company has teamed up with fellow fast-food giants Burger King and Wendy’s to plead that it has no control over terms and conditions at franchised plants — a claim that the SEIU challenges.

The union has highlighted the cost to the taxpayer of low pay after a study found families in work in the US receive $153 billion (£104bn) a year in welfare payments to make up for poverty wages.

McDonald’s chief executive Steve Easterbrook has been put on the defensive, writing in the Chicago Tribune that the pay policy was only an “initial step” and that he means to turn the firm into a “modern, progressive burger company.”

Former US labour secretary Robert Reich said the campaign was helping to dispel negative myths about unions.

“People are starting to wonder if they’d be better off with bargaining power,” he said.

SEIU president Mary Kay Henry said: “Powerful CEOs could pay people more, but they simply choose not to.

“Together, we are fighting for an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.”