SAN DIEGO — Fast-food workers in San Diego took to the streets of City Heights Thursday as part of a one-day strike in up to 150 cities nationwide to press their demands for pay of $15 an hour and the right to unionize.
The local workers and their supporters gathered near a McDonald’s in City Heights early this morning, then began marching to nearby Burger King and Jack in the Box restaurants.
“How do I struggle? I wake up every morning worrying whether or not I am going to be homeless because I can’t afford rent here,” said Jay Ames, a McDonald’s employee who earns $9 an hour. “I do maintenance, I do cars, I take care of orders, I clean; I do everything.”
Organizers said similar events are scheduled to take place in anywhere from 100 to 150 cities nationwide, though it’s unclear how many workers will participate.
At one point during the local protests, strikers were sitting in the roadway on University Avenue over Interstate 15. Ten of the protesters were arrested when they refused to move, Fox 5 reported.
Fast-food employees, with backing from the Service Employees International Union, have been making their case for higher wages for about two years.
They say the eateries aren’t run by teenagers like in the old days but by adults with children and financial responsibilities. According to Payscale.com, fast-food employees’ earn hourly wages ranging from $7.16 to $8.95, depending on location.
The efforts by the workers and SEIU have been boosted by heightened awareness of what they call “income inequality” and the passage of higher minimum wage standards in the state of California and several cities, including San Diego. The $15-an-hour figure was adopted as the minimum wage in Seattle, but with some exceptions and long phase-in periods.
The movement by fast-food workers was noted by President Barack Obama in his Labor Day speech. “I want an economy where your hard work pays off with higher wages and higher incomes and fare pay for women,” said President Obama during his speech. “I’m not asking for the moon I just want a good deal for American workers.”
McDonald’s issued a statement saying the company respects the right to peacefully protest and that the topic of minimum wage “goes well beyond McDonald’s — it affects our country’s entire workforce.”
“McDonald’s and our independent franchisees support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace,” the company statement said. “We believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on owners of small and medium-sized businesses — like the ones who own and operate the majority of our restaurants — is manageable.”
McDonald’s does not determine wages set by its more than 3,000 franchisees, according to the statement.
This is not the first time San Diego workers stood up to the fast food industry, in August and December of 2013, dozens protested outside a local “Wendy’s” asking for more money and more hours.