This Friday was not the day to get a hamburger in Detroit. Hundreds of fast food workers walked off the job, leaving fast food companies including Wendy's, McDonald's, and Jimmy John's, without workers. The strike was part of a larger worker-driven movement in the service industry, fighting back against low pay and poor job conditions: fast food employees in particular have gone on strike around the country in the last few months, in cities including St. Louis, Chicago, and New York. Over 400 fast food workers have left work today, making the strike in Detroit is the biggest fast food workers strike in history. Their fight is one for labor, Detroit, and the middle class.
The fast food workers' strike is a little different from typical labor organizing tactics. The Nation reports that workers are uniting in tackling the industry, not an individual company. They are also trying to spread enough awareness not just through an international union, but through working with community groups, thus minimizing risk for these employees. Employees are demanding $15 dollars an hour for their work, rather than the state's $7.40 minimum wage, which, as a petition written by a striking worker contends, "our average salary is less than $19,000 per year, which just isn't enough to cover basic needs like rent, food, health care, transportation, and often times a family to support."
Detroit in particular has struggled with major battles as of late, from labor issues to its right to autonomous governance. Michigan is newly a "right to work" state, which means that employees at businesses where there is an active union do not have to join or pay dues, damaging the power of unions. The city of Detroit has also faced challenges in maintaining its democracy: after the city went bankrupt in 2011, the governor installed an emergency manager to make financial decisions for the area without having been democratically elected. In this landscape, fast food workers are a major part of Detroit’s economy, outnumbering auto workers two to one. Clearly paying these workers a living wage would be beneficial for Detroit’s economy and residents.
The workers' strike in Detroit, and across the country, is vital: increasing numbers of Americans are working in the service industry for low wages. The Washington Post reports that "The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that seven of the ten fastest-growing occupations over the next decade will be low-wage ones, such as home health aides, store clerks, food preparation workers and laborers." And with the decline of the wages and employment opportunities of the middle class, it's clear that workers' rights in the notoriously low-paid and unacknowledged service industry are a priority in ensuring workers' rights for all. Considering the stakes for labor, Detroit, and workers around the country, let’s hope this fast food workers' strike pays off.