McDonald's employees in 15 different cities coordinated a massive labor strike on Wednesday, May 19. According to a report by Vice, cooks and cashiers are demanding their employer raise its minimum pay to at least $15 per hour. They feel that now is the time to push the issue since McDonald's is dealing with a historic labor shortage.
McDonald's is one of the many employers desperate to draw in employees right now, offering incentives and advertising availability everywhere. However, strike organizers say that the company could easily solve this problem by paying a living wage — or, at least, closer to one. Some of the calls for applicants have gone viral on social media, where public sentiment has generally turned against low-wage employers. Vice spoke organizer Terrence Wise, a McDonald's department manager in Kansas City, Missouri who has worked in the fast-food industry for 22 years.
BREAKING: St Louis @McDonalds workers ON STRIKE for $15/hr and the right to form a union.May 19, 2021
"We know McDonald's is gathering for its shareholders' meeting to discuss what straws we use, what bags we use, how much we get paid," Wise said. "The one thing that's missing is our voice. We made them that $5 billion in profit last year. There wouldn't be shares to divide if we weren't making burgers and McFlurries. Our message to shareholders on May 19 is you don't have to wait on legislation. You can pay us $15 an hour now, that should be the floor."
McDonald's did indeed report $5 billion in profit in 2020, and the company paid shareholders almost $4 billion in dividends. Striking employees feel that they should see more of those profits themselves, and they are teaming up with the Fight for $15 movement to demand it.
Workers walked off the job in the cities of Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Kansas City, St Louis, Houston and Milwaukee, among others. They are not the first of their colleagues to make this demand, however. McDonald's workers have been demanding $15 per hour since 2012 — long enough that some activists now question if that number is even high enough to earn a living wage.
McDonald's USA responded to the strike in a public statement saying: "Our first responsibility is to hardworking restaurant crew, and we respect and appreciate their dedication to serve millions of customers daily. It's the responsibility of federal and local government to set minimum wage, and we're open to dialogue so that any changes meet the needs of thousands of hardworking restaurant employees and the 2,000 McDonald's independent owner/operators who run small businesses."
Still, McDonald's is definitely feeling the pressure. Last month, CEO Chris Kempczinski and president Joseph Erlinger reportedly fielded concerned questions about the labor shortage on an earnings call. They said that wage increases were on the table. Kempczinski said: "I think one of the things that we are thinking about... is in our company-owned restaurants, how do we think about what the pay and benefits package need to look like for us to make sure that we're able to get the people that we need."
"We're working through what some changes in our company-owned restaurants might look like from a wages and compensation perspective," Erlinger added. In the meantime, workers across the country are demanding faster action. Their strike inspired further discourse on social media.