Fast food employees are set to stage a global strike demanding for better salary and conditions. The protest is to take place across five continents: in 150 US cities and 32 other countries, including Germany, Belgium, Japan, Brazil and New Zealand.
The strike is planned for May 15, and will involve the workers of McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC.
Such chains, the organizers say, typically rely on a large number of part-time workers to avoid paying overtime, health insurance and other benefits. As a result, employees say they never know exactly how many hours of work they'll be given from week to week.
On Wednesday, the first announcement of the walkout happened in New York, during a meeting between fast food industry employees and union leaders. Together, they discussed how to expand a movement that started in November 2012 with 200 fast food workers going on strike in New York.
Since that event, thousands across the globe followed their lead, insisting that companies pay them a proper living wage.
For example, in December, workers held rallies in hundreds of US cities, saying their take home pay was not enough to live on.
“It’s amazing that our fight for $15 and a union has inspired workers around the world to come together,” Ashley Cathey, a McDonald’s employee in Memphis, Tennessee, told Al Jazeera. “The highly-profitable fast food industry needs to know we won’t stop fighting until our voices are heard.”
Ron Oswald, general secretary of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), said US fast food workers had inspired employees in the industry worldwide to join them “in a fight for higher pay and better rights on the job.”
The IUF represents 12 million workers in 126 countries, and Oswald believes the organization is only starting to gain popularity.
“This is just the beginning of an unprecedented international fast food worker movement — and this highly profitable global industry better take note," he said in a statement.
Some protesters in other countries say they are taking action specifically in sympathy with US workers. Louise Marie Rantzau, a McDonald's worker in Denmark, told USA Today that she makes $21 an hour. She says she was surprised to hear that US employees have to stage strikes to make $15 an hour, and she says is "committed" to supporting their cause.
The fast food workers’ efforts seem to be bearing fruit: for instance, in March, McDonald’s agreed to pay $1 billion to workers who launched an investigation into an alleged wage theft. Similar cases are set to be taken to court in Michigan and California. All in all, 90 percent of fast food workers reported that money was taken from their salaries against the law, according to a nationwide survey.
Although the US Congress seemed unwilling to raise the minimum wage, several states and localities have raised their minimum wages over the past year or so.
On May 1, Seattle’s mayor, Ed Murray, declared that the city’s minimum wage would be increased to $15 per hour, becoming the highest in the country, responding to labor union pressure after a high-profile campaign by newly elected Socialist Alternative council member Kshama Sawant, whose call for “$15 Now” has gained an echo in cities across the US.
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was last raised in 2009.