The fledgling movement, which has been aided by the Service Employees International Union and other labor groups, as well as local religious groups, argues that many fast-food and low-paid retail workers are forced to rely on government aid programs to provide for their families, even as fast-food corporations rake in $200 billion a year in revenues.
Moreover, organizers say, most fast-food workers are adults relying on the jobs to support themselves and their families, not teenagers looking to earn pocket money. The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group, says that roughly eight out of 10 workers in the country earning minimum wage are age 20 or older, and half of them work 40 hours a week.
“It is clear that the bulk of minimum-wage workers are mid- or full-time adult employees, not teenagers or part-timers,” the EPI researchers said.
Fast-food industry representatives have said that jobs in their restaurants offer a valuable gateway into the workforce for millions of workers, most of whom move on to other, better-paying jobs. In addition, they say that fast-food franchises, as well as retailers, often operate on wafer-thin profit margins and that paying workers as much as $15 an hour would drive them out of business.
But workers say something is going to have to give. “I personally think a $15-an-hour wage is very obtainable,” said Shonda Roberts, 38, a mother of three who works at KFC in Oakland, Calif. She says she plans to walk off the job with other workers.
“As hard as we work, are we not worth $15 an hour? I certainly believe I am.”