Low-wage workers in 190 U.S. cities marched on fast food restaurants today to protest intolerable working conditions at their employers.
The movement, called the Fight for $15, began two years ago. It has since become one of the largest labor movements in the country. Coordinated by service unions, it calls on large employers and policymakers to raise minimum wages to $15, and puts workers on a path toward unionization.
The protests come as 20 percent of all U.S. workers find themselves in jobs that pay less than the national median income of $16.87, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
On Thursday morning, a group of protesters marched on a McDonald’s just north of Miami. At least three of the marchers worked at the location itself. Here they are going through the store's drive-thru:
Myshana Joyce, a 22-year-old pregnant mother, said she has never worked more than seven hours a day since starting her job at the McDonald's three months ago. Only once during that time has she earned more than $200 in a week. She earned $10.35/hour at her previous job at a local nursing home, but it went out of business and she was forced to look for work elsewhere.
"I have to work four days, three days off," she said. "That's not enough."
McDonald's corporate was apparently notified about the march and hired private security to guard the store. (The median hourly wage for a security guard, by the way, is $11.60, according to the BLS.)
In response to the protests, McDonald's released a statement saying they would not oppose a mandated minimum-wage increase, but that salaries must be "aligned with a competitive marketplace."
Airport service workers (median wage $11.04) and home-care workers (median wage $10.10) joined today's fast-food employee protest in solidarity.
Rashad Grant, 28, has worked at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood airport for four years, and currently serves as a wheelchair attendant. Despite his tenure, he makes only $7.93 an hour, with no benefits or vacation time. “It’s just sickening, the conditions they have us working in,” he said.
A spokesman for the Lauderdale airport emailed the following statement: "We understand this is a national issue affecting multiple industries and wait for the policy makers to provide direction on this important matter."
A few hours later, the workers met again, this time in downtown Miami, to march on a Burger King…
…which they successfully occupied for a few minutes…
…and then to another McDonald's, which they were barred from entering.
After getting turned back, they launched into a chant of "I can't breathe," a reference to the death of Eric Garner at the hands of law enforcement:
Shontavia Myers, a 20-year-old Miami resident and mother of one, says she was recently a victim of wage theft at the McDonald’s where she works. She said it took another Fight for $15 protest in September to get her managers to stop withholding her paycheck — or making her cash it out — when there was a shortfall in the stores' registers.
She says management remains chaotic, and decisions about setting work schedules appear to be made arbitrarily.
"No matter how perfect you are — a lot of people have been there long time now, and are still getting just two days, or three days, or one day [of work per week]," she said. "I do everything, and they still don't give you hours."
The scale of the Thursday's protests are no coincidence. The fastest-growing set of jobs in the U.S., health care support, currently has a median hourly wage of $12.54. The BLS projects that industry to grow by more than 4 percent annually through 2022.
Although the fast-food industry won't grow at the same clip, it will represent one of the largest labor forces in the country, with another half-million Americans joining their ranks to push the national total above 5 million.
"I know a lot of other people are going through same thing but are afraid to speak out," Myers said. "But we are speaking out and letting them know, 'Don’t be afraid, there's nothing you can get in trouble for, or fired for. This is your right'."
Fast-food workers went on strike in the following cities:
Aberdeen, WA; Alameda, CA; Atlanta, GA; Auburn Hills, MI; Baton Rouge, LA; Bellevue, PA; Bellevue, WA; Bellefontaine, MO; Ben Salem, PA; Berkeley, CA; Birmingham, AL.; Boston, MA; Brighton, NY; Brookfield, WI; Brown Deer, WI; Buffalo, NY; Burton, MI; Carmichael, CA; Castro Valley, CA; Centennial, CO; Chapel Hill, NC; Charleston, SC; Charlotte, NC; Chelsea, MA; Chicago, IL; Citrus Heights, CA; Claymont, DE; Dearborn Heights, MI; Decatur, GA; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; Dixon, IL; Dublin, CA; Duquesne, PA; Durham, NC; Eastpointe, MI; El Cerrito, CA; Elk Grove, CA; Everett, MA; Fairfield, CA; Farmington Hills, MI; Farmville, NC; Ferguson, MO; Ferndale, MI; Fitchburg, WI; Flint, MI; Flint Township, MI; Florissant, MO; Folsom, CA; Forsyth, MO; Freeport, IL; Fremont, CA; Ft Lauderdale, FL; Germantown, WI; Glendale, WI; Grandview, MO; Greece, NY; Greendale, WI; Greenfield, WI; Greensboro, NC; Greenville, NC; Hamtramck, MI; Harper Woods, MI; Hartford, CT; Harvey, LA; Hayward, CA; Henderson, NV; Henrico, VA; Hercules, CA; High Point, NC; Highland Park, MI; Hillsborough, NC; Homestead, PA; Houston, TX; Independence, MO; Indianapolis, IN; Inglewood, CA; Irondequoit, NY; Jackson, MS; Jacksonville, AR; James Island, SC; Janesville, WI; Jennings, MO; Kansas City, KS; Kansas City, MO; Kirkwood, MO; Knoxville, TN; Lakewood, CO; Lansing, MI; Las Vegas, NV; Lee's Summit, MO; Lincoln Park, MI; Little Rock, AR; Littleton, CO; Livonia, MI; Los Angeles, CA; Luling, LA; Lynn, MA; Madison, WI; Maryland Heights, MO; Melvindale, MI; Memphis, TN; Menomonee Falls, WI; Miami, FL; Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Montgomery, Ala.; Nashville, TN; New Castle, DE; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; North Charleston, SC; North Highlands, CA; North Kansas City, MO; North Las Vegas, NV; North Little Rock, AR; Oak Park, MI; Oakland, CA; Olympia, WA; Opelika, AL; Orangevale, CA; Orlando, FL; Pasadena, CA; Pensacola, FL; Peoria, IL; Pewaukee, WI; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Pine Bluff, AR; Pittsburgh, PA; Pleasant Hills, PA; Pleasanton, CA; Plymouth, NC; Pontiac, MI; Providence, RI; Raleigh, NC; Rancho Cordova, CA; Raytown, MO; Redford, MI; Redford Township, MI; Richmond, CA; Richmond, VA; River Rouge, MI; Rochester, NY; Rock Hill, MO; Rockford, IL; Roseville, CA; Ross Township, PA; Rothschild, WI; Sacramento, CA; Saint Rose, LA; San Diego, CA; San Leandro, CA; San Lorenzo, CA; San Pablo, CA; Sandy Spring, GA; Schofield, WI; Scottsdale, AZ; Slidell, LA; South Boston, VA; Southfield, MI; Southaven, MS; Spanish Lake, MO; Springfield, MO; St Louis, MO; St Paul, MN; St Petersburg, FL; Sterling, IL; Tampa, FL; Taylor, CA; Taylor, MI; Temple Terrace, FL; Tucson, AZ; Union City, CA; Union City, GA; University City, MO; Warren, MI; Warwick, RI; Waterford, MI; Wausau, WI; Wauwatosa, WI; Wayne, MI; West Allis, WI; West Milwaukee, WI; West Sacramento, CA; Westview, PA; Wethersfield, CT; Wilkinsburg, PA; Williamston, NC; Wilmington, DE; Windsor Locks, CT.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.