St. Louis became the third city where fast food restaurant workers staged a day-long strike to demand higher wages and the right to unionize. Organizers yesterday expected as many as 100 workers to walk out of restaurants including a McDonald’s. The local CBS affiliate reported that last night and this morning, seven St. Louis fast food restaurants have been forced to halt operations because workers refused to come to work.
In April, Chicago hundreds of fast food workers walked off the job . That strike mimicked a November fast food strike in New York. Like those previous actions, St. Louis workers, who often earn the state’s $7.35 hourly minimum wage, are demanding a raise to $15 an hour.
The strikes come as low-wage jobs like those in fast food restaurants grow in number. As I wrote in December:
An oft-cited report by the National Employment Law Project reveals that in the fledgling economic recovery, the only parts of the labor market that are expanding significantly provide low-wages. The report finds 43 percent of all jobs gained in the last two years were in food service, retail and other services sector work. These are some of the least unionized jobs in the country. Only about 7 percent of private sector workers have a union and that rate is even lower for service workers.
This new economy is populated by an increasingly non-white labor force. The average fast food worker is about 30 years old, female and, as with low-wage work in general, likely to be a person of color. In 2011, 28 percent of working black women and over 31 percent of working Latinas had jobs in the service sector, compared to about 20 percent of white women.
Further, black and Latino workers are concentrated in the lowest-paying jobs in the service sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
The labor actions are part of a trend to organize workers in service sector jobs that have historically been unorganized or excluded from labor law protections. Most labor experts agree that unionization in the fast food sector is a long way off.