Fast Food Workers Strike In Seattle As National Trend Begins To Show Results

Fast food workers went on strike in a sixth city yesterday as other low-wage service sector workers are claiming union victories.

By Seth Freed Wessler May 31, 2013

Fast food workers shut down as many as six restaurants in Seattle yesterday as a national movement of service workers demanding wage hikes and union rights gains momentum and logs small victories. 

Seattle is the sixth city in two months where fast food workers have gone on strike. The walk-outs, which usually last one day, are organized by local community and labor groups with the support of national unions.  Similar efforts are underway with other service workers as well. Earlier this week, New York City carwash workers won a contract for higher wages, guaranteed sick days and the creation of a grievance process. The Huffington Post reports:

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said workers at the Astoria Car Wash & Hi-Tek 10 Minute Lube in Queens voted overwhelmingly in favor of the contract, which increases wages from the current minimum wage of $7.25 to $9.18 after three years. The agreement also guarantees sick and personal days for workers and establishes a grievance process for complaints.

Unions, in concert with faith and community groups, have made a significant push in recent years to organize the mostly Latino immigrant workforces that clean cars in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Workers often toil for the minimum wage or less, handling potentially dangerous chemicals, with little or no job security.

The fast food strikers are hoping for similar victories. The same group that spearheaded the car wash union drive, New York Communities For Change, also organized the first fast food strike in New York last year. But so far, no fast workers in any of the strike locations have formed a union or won the $15 hour wages they demand. In addition to New York and Seattle, workers have staged walk-outs in Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago.

Though a significant victory, the $9.18 wage hike for the car wash workers does not amount to a living wage for a family in New York City. According to an MIT calculation, a single adult needs to earn more than $12 an hour to get by.  An adult with one kid needs to make twice that amount.

The struggles of low-wage service sector workers do appear to be getting some small attention from Washington, where the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced it would make low wage work one of it’s core issues.  Rep. Keith Ellison, D–Minn., told MSNBC this week that he another other CPC members would launch a national tour to "highlight the problem of stagnant and low wages for American workers."