SEATTLE — Better pay and a better way of life — that’s what fast food workers in Seattle and across the nation are demanding.
Thursday the workers staged strikes and protests at several fast-food chains, including Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell and Jimmy John’s.
The average fast-food employee makes just over $9 an hour or about $18,500 a year. Now, workers are taking to the street to demand a pay raise to $15 an hour. In addition to better pay, many fast-food workers also want to be able to unionize and demonstrate without fear of retaliation.
“We deserve more,” Bryan Parker, a Wendy’s employee who joined protestors outside his workplace in Ballard, said.
He admitted he was worried about picketing outside his employer. “Yeah, there’s fear. Every one of us is scared about remaining employed, being able to pay our bills. But we’re not going to let this fear control us.”
The minimum wage in Washington is $9.19 an hour, the highest in the nation, but protesters say it’s not enough.
”If I had money I wouldn’t be taking food from the trash,” Coulson Loptman said. Loptman was recently fired from Starbucks for eating an expired sandwich that had been thrown away, which the coffee franchise considers stealing. Loptman believes he had no choice on the small wages he makes.
“I’d really like if we got a livable wage,” Loptman said. “That way this doesn’t happen to other people, like someone with a son or a daughter they can barely take care of.”
But what about business owners who might have to pay the $15 an hour?
Ben Kulikowski, who owns Benito’s Restaurant in Ballard, said if he were required to pay his employees that much “it would be pretty devastating.”
Kulikowski said that most of his employees make $15 an hour or more, because they earn tips. But if he paid that hourly rate protesters are demanding, he’d be out of business.
“If I had to go across the board and raise all of my employees mandatory to 15 bucks an hour, yeah, I’d probably close my doors.”
According to the Washington Restaurant Association, a major increase in the minimum wage would double labor costs at all Seattle restaurants and force many to close.
As for the national fast-food chains, McDonalds released a statement saying:
“The story promoted by the individuals organizing these events does not provide an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald’s. We respect the strong relationship which exists among McDonald’s, our independent operators, and the employees who work in McDonald’s restaurants. Our restaurants remain open, with our dedicated employees providing strong service to our customers.
“McDonald’s aims to offer competitive pay and benefits to our employees. We provide training and professional development for all of those who wish to take advantage of those opportunities. Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald’s and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald’s.”
A Wendy’s restaurant spokesperson also responded, saying they often pay higher than the minimum wage.
“We are proud to provide a place where thousands of people, who come to us asking for a job, can enter the workforce at a starting wage, gain skills and advance with us or move on to something else,” the spokesperson said. “The vast majority of our restaurant employees make above the federal minimum wage.”