May 11, 2013
By Kismet Barksdale
DETROIT, Michigan –More than 400 workers at Detroit’s largest fast food chains walked off their jobs Friday, May 10, 2013, calling for $15 an hour and the right to form an union free from retaliation. The walkout – hitting major national chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Domino’s, Long John Silver’s, Popeyes, Burger King and Little Caesar’s – marks the largest in a string of strikes in low-wage industries that began last fall at Walmarts nationwide and continued to emerge among fast-food restaurants and retail stores in major cities.
The strike kicked off at 6 am with about 20 workers walking off the job at a McDonald’s at 10400 Gratiot Ave. When McDonald’s called in replacement workers, those workers spontaneously joined the strike line instead of filling in for their co-workers.Eight workers at a McDonald’s on Van Dyke Avenue who had not planned to walk out joined the strike after seeing their co-workers take a stand. As of midday, six stores were not able to operate—including the Gratiot McDonalds, the Van Dyke McDonalds, a Popeyes, a Burger King, a Subway and a Long John Silver’s.
"When I got to work, I decided to join my fellow workers on strike,” said Nathaniel Gaines, a 21-year-old McDonald’s worker who was called in early to help replace striking coworkers. “I feel overworked and underpaid. I am constantly training new workers, while working the grill at the same time, all at minimum wage. Management always changes my hours, so I never have a consistent paycheck. I have a young son, and it's tough to raise him and support myself. The strike made me feel empowered to do the right thing for myself and my son."
The walkout comes in a city where dramatic shifts in the economy have forced workers to rely on low-paying fast-food jobs where they once had family-sustaining jobs in the auto industry. There are now 53,000 fast-food jobs in the Detroit metro area, more than twice as many as in the auto-manufacturing sector. Fast food jobs are projected to grow by 12.3% in the area by 2018—more than twice as fast as the projected growth rate of the region’s workforce as a whole. But these jobs are the lowest paying in Detroit, with many workers earning Michigan’s minimum wage of $7.40 or just above it.
Unrest is spreading nationwide among workers in the service industry who are paid low wages and have been shut out of the economic recovery. The Friday May 10thstrike comes a day after more than 100 fast-food workers walked off their jobs in St. Louis and just weeks after hundreds more walked off their jobs in New York City and Chicago.Last fall, Walmart associates held strikes across the country and earlier this month, low-wage workers in Seattle and the Washington, DC-area initiated organizing campaigns.