It’s one thing to walk off the job in union friendly New York City; it’s another to do so in Opelika, Ala. But that’s what a handful of fast-food workers did this morning in a small southern town (pronounced O-puh-LIE-kuh) on the Georgia-Alabama border. In what may be Opelika’s first labor protest ever and the latest so far, in piecemeal worker grumblings in right-to-work states that are anti-union and proud, local McDonald’s and Burger King employees are joining today’s #FastFoodGlobal strikes. They’re said to be happening in 150 U.S. cities and for the first time in more than 30 countries around the world.
"We want $15-an-hour and we don’t want to be fired for talking about a union," McDonald’s employee and protest organizer Eddie Foreman, 40, told me by phone this Tuesday. He’d vaguely followed news of national protests begun in 2012, but only Googled "fast food union" in March after listening to constant complaints from co-workers.
They include: management taking time, no 40-hour-a-week schedule, no health insurance, and being expected to work multiple job positions at the same minimum wage rate paid for one job. "We can’t have cell phones in our pockets [while working] but most people here are adults with kids in day care and with babysitters," Foreman says. Workers range in age from 25 to their mid-50s, he adds.
On the phone Tuesday, as time drew nearer to the protest day, Foreman seemed to put more faith in his colleagues at Burger King. He wasn’t as hopeful that his McDonald’s co-workers would walk out with him and road-trip north to merge with other fast-food workers in Atlanta.
"You have no idea. People in this state are scared that the little things they do have, they’re afraid they’ll be taken from them," he says. "You know how people talk about the Confederacy? This still is the Confederacy. Besides fast-food, Alabama’s main industry is prisons."
According to Raise Up, which organizes fast food workers in the South, police arrested Foreman this morning, allegedly for trespassing on McDonald’s property.