When hundreds of fast food workers went on strike in “only” 30 American cities in March of last year, as opposed to the thousands of workers in hundreds of cities who had previously participated in the organized request to earn an actual living wage, I cautioned against interpreting this as evidence that the fight was becoming less passionate. This cause is too significant and affects too many people for it to end abruptly.
It seems that I was correct. Fast food employees are preparing to go on strike once more later this month. And this will be a significant one.
Workers in 150 American cities will pick up their protest placards on May 15th and leave their aprons at home. But employees from thirty different nations on six continents will be standing alongside them, at least in spirit. Yes, the fast food strikes have spread internationally. And by doing so, it enables us to observe just how miserable American workers’ lives are.
A McDonald’s employee from Denmark provided the following justification for striking in one of the several news pieces covering the most recent round of strikes:
Louise Marie Rantzau, who is a McDonald’s worker in Denmark, says she makes $21 an hour. She says she was surprised to hear U.S. workers have to fight so hard to make $15 an hour, and she says is “committed” to supporting their cause.
Reread that: $21 per hour. That isn’t a typo, she’s not a manager, and she didn’t just get a big raise for figuring out how to make the McNuggets with even less chicken, or something. She earns $21 per hour in Denmark because that is the standard pay for workers who are over the age of 18.
What is the average salary in America for a similar job, regardless of age? $8.81. Or, if you want to calculate the average salary for a worker who works 40 hours per week taking orders and grilling hamburgers, it comes to just under $18,500 per year before taxes. (And that’s assuming the employee has the opportunity to work 40 hours per week, which is doubtful given that fast food chains frequently prevent their employees from reaching that mark so they won’t have to pay additional benefits.) How, then, do workers in other nations make more than twice as much as their American counterparts?
Their union exists.
(Before we continue, it should be mentioned that just because McDonald’s is the focus of the fast food strikes, that doesn’t absolve other chains of responsibility. While there are instances of fast food businesses treating their employees with respect—In-N-Out being the best example of this—for the most part, they all fail to pay their workers a living wage. McDonald’s is given the spotlight in this article for two reasons: (a) they are the industry leader, and as one industry grows, so does the rest; and (b) in this case, they are the only franchise with a true global presence, making it possible to compare what their employees earn locally to what they earn abroad.)
Fast food unions aren’t that uncommon if you look around the rest of the world. McDonald’s has employee unions in France, Finland, Switzerland, Germany, and Norway in addition to Denmark. This isn’t because the employees in those nations merely requested one from the McDonald’s representatives in their area. It’s because they have fought for recognition for so long. (If you have time, it’s worth reading about how McDonald’s fought attempts at unionization.) Things like this take time to develop. They are lengthy. Perhaps now is the right time for American workers to obtain one.
Will the CEOs of American fast food chains be affected by these global strikes? That is still up in the air. However, it’s not a recipe for success when foreign employees of American-based companies make over twice as much as their American counterparts and the CEOs of those companies make $1,000 more than their staff members. There must be a compromise, and it will happen sooner rather than later.