A spirited group of community, religious and labor activists gathered outside a Western Avenue McDonald’s today to connect their efforts to raise fast-food workers’ earnings with a new study disclosing how dependent such low-income employees are on public assistance.
Among the facts of low-income life that were dug up by the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center report:
- More than half of front-line fast-food workers rely on public assistance programs.
- Contrary to popular belief, more than two-thirds of such workers are over the age of 20 and 68 percent are the main wage-earners of their families.
- The taxpayer cost of public assistance to fast-food worker families is nearly $7 billion per year.
“We’ve seen McDonald’s clown the workers and we’ve seen Ronald McDonald – did you like that?” the Reverend Lewis Logan asked at the top of the rally. He was referring to a pair of convertibles filled with Ronald McDonald impersonators who drove around the Western Avenue and Romaine Street block – before rolling up onto the Mickey D’s parking lot, where they were firmly told by security to move out.
Elsa Barbosa, a campaign director at Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Political Education (SCOPE), called for a prevailing wage of $15 an hour to be put in place.
“While we believe everyone has a right to the safety net, corporations should not benefit and make billions of dollars by paying a low wage,” she said, referring to the health care and food stamp costs that government programs must increasingly provide fast-food workers.
Joe Johnson, a young man who works at the Main Street and Manchester Avenue McDonald’s for $8 an hour while attending L.A. Trade Tech College, told listeners he is HIV-positive, but uses his wages to support an ill grandmother.
“I work hard to put food on the table and help my grandmother pay her rent in Mobile, Alabama. But $8 an hour ain’t cuttin’ it no more.”
Later, some of the nearly 100 demonstrators moved into the McDonald’s restaurant itself, creating chaos at the counters. Armed with fake gift certificates (“Claim your tax rebate inside!” they read), protesters attempted to redeem the chits for Happy Meals – whereupon a most unhappy LAPD cop announced, “If you are holding a coupon they are not valid here – exit the store because you are not a customer!”
While apologists for the fast-food industry dismiss the efforts of the new fast food justice movement, noting that there is an unlimited pool of low-income workers, Johnson disagrees.
“McDonald’s and the others need people like me to flip their burgers, to wrap their fries – without us they can’t do a thing. Everything would shut down without us.”