TAMPA — The bay area is home to more than 30,000 fast-food workers, and hundreds of them on Thursday joined thousands of others across the country in calling for a $15 minimum wage.
About 150 people representing the “Fight for $15” organizations from Tampa and Orlando marched on a Temple Terrace McDonald’s around noon, calling for raises and a union for the restaurant’s employees. They blocked traffic in the nearby busy intersection at Fowler Avenue and 56th street for a few minutes by sitting in the road.
“We want a living wage and to take care of our kids,” said 25-year-old Nesi Nix, who works at Taco Bell. “For the hard work we do, we deserve it.”
A handful of workers in the McDonald’s at 11707 N. 56th St. joined the crowd as it lined the sidewalk, chanting and waving signs that read “Honk for the Workers” and “Low Pay is not OK.”
Mandy Spencer has worked for McDonald’s for 17 years, she said shortly after walking out on her shift to join the protesters.
“I’ve been here this long with the company and I only make $8.25 an hour,” said Spencer, a mother of five.
The “Fight for $15” campaign, which was created in 2012 and is backed financially by the Service Employees International Union and others, comes at a time when the wage gap between the poor and the rich has become a hot political issue. Many fast-food workers do not make much more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That adds up to about $15,000 a year for 40 hours a week, though many fast-food employees only work part-time..
Protests on Thursday were organized in about 150 cities across the country, resulting in dozens of arrests in places like New York City, Detroit and Miami. No arrests were reported locally, but Temple Terrace police officers did have to forcibly move several protesters out of the road when they were blocking 53rd Street at Fowler Avenue.
In a prepared statement on its website, the McDonald’s Corporation said it respects everyone’s right to protest and that the company’s more than 3,000 franchisees set the wages at their establishments based on job level and local and federal laws.
“The topic of minimum wage goes well beyond McDonald’s,” the statement reads. “It affects our country’s entire workforce. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace. We believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on owners of small and medium-sized businesses – like the ones who own and operate the majority of our restaurants – is manageable.”
The statement says there were reports demonstrators on Thursday were transported to fast-food restaurants across the country and offered money to protest and get arrested.
The National Restaurant Association, an advocacy group for the restaurant industry, called Thursday’s protests “orchestrated union PR events” for labor groups that are attempting to “boost their dwindling membership by targeting restaurant employees.”
“Restaurants continue to be a critical employer that trains America’s workforce and provides a pathway towards upward mobility and success, ” a statement from the organization reads.
A 2013 study conducted by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center found that more than half of the families who work 40 hours a week at fast-food restaurants still don’t make enough money to prevent them from enrolling in public assistance programs. The study also found that the government spends more than $7 billion a year on public assistance for fast-food workers, including programs such as Medicaid, SNAP benefits and Earned Income Tax Credit payments.
Vaughn Beal, one of the organizers of the local demonstration from Fight for $15 Orlando, said he knows people who get paid minimum wage 20 hours per week and struggle to pay their bills. They can’t get public assistance because they work, he said.
It isn’t fair that billion-dollar corporations like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King only pay their employees $7.25 an hour, he said.
“That’s why we fight,” Beal said. “They have enough money to pay their people a good wage and they do not.”
Some people argue that fast-food work is a “starter job” and that the workers are uneducated and unskilled, Nix said. But she said she is working at Taco Bell so she can support her three children and pay for tuition at Hillsborough Community College this fall.
Just because it’s an unskilled position doesn’t mean those workers shouldn’t be paid enough to make ends meet, she said.
“I just want what’s right,” Nix said. “I want justice.”