Editorial: Fast Food Strike Falls Flat
By Brandi Makuski
In a press release from Wisconsin Jobs Now, fast food workers are “fired up and their not going to take it anymore”.
Spelling errors notwithstanding (it’s surprising no one caught that) fast food workers in Stevens Point were, according to the release, slated to walk off the job and join forces with pro-labor and union forces during the busy lunch hour on Thursday.
That never happened, at least not in Stevens Point.
No protestors were visible outside of Wendy’s, Taco Bell or Burger King, though two minutes before noon a group of eight or nine people walked into the McDonald’s north parking lot- from the adjacent Perkin’s parking lot- adorned with Santa hats and carrying a banner reading “United Council Fighting for Students Since 1960 #WI Need to Talk”. A message left at the United Council of Students Thursday wasn’t immediately returned.
The group chanted, “What’s disgusting? Union busting!”, “Hey, hey, ho, ho- 7.25 has got to go!” and “What’s outrageous? Poverty Wages!” in front of the restaurant for about 20 minutes. Unfortunately the group’s message was lost when giggling and Christmas songs replaced the anger and passion characteristic of a strike or protest.
Had this protest been one of principal- at least here in Stevens Point- workers would have left their French fry stations and grills en masse to get their point across: 30 workers suddenly leaving the store would have forced an employer to take notice and make a change. It has to be an “all or nothing” approach otherwise it won’t work. These folks were there for spectacle and it kept their message of wanting higher wages from having any credibility.
The national protests/rallies across the nation have yielded heavy conversation about the demand for $15/ hour wages and union rights. What’s missing from the conversation is, why is there a need to unionize at all? Unions were created out of necessity for workers pushed to their limits with extremely low pay, abuse from employers and inhumane or dangerous working conditions during the industrial revolution of the mid- 19th century. While today’s unions are designed as a bargaining tool for better wages, benefits and scheduling, today’s labor laws overwhelmingly favor employee rights and safety. Laws at both the federal and state levels define how long employees are allowed to work without a break, how many days off workers should have, worker’s compensation and medical leave. There are laws against abuse, harassment and unsafe working conditions- so much so that employers are required by law to have an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) on the property for something as common as a bottle of Windex.
Some fast food workers may indeed deserve a raise. Those who remain in their food service jobs for several years, as with any business, might deserve a pay bump for longevity. But it’s not an issue which deserves across-the-board consideration. Business models like those of McDonald’s aren’t designed to accommodate career workers: these jobs require no special skill set and those taught on the job certainly aren’t unique to one restaurant chain.
Next time food service workers organize a protest, it should be more clearly defined and organized. And it should have nothing whatsoever to do with the United Council of Students.