Today might be a good day to brown-bag it.
As part of a nationwide strike, fast food workers in Las Vegas plan to walk out as part of a demand for fair wages. The local strike is in conjunction with actions in 50 cities all over the country, including San Diego and Los Angeles. And it comes after waves of similar protests in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis. and Detroit.
Nationally, strike organizers are asking that wages be raised to a minimum of $15 an hour, or $31,000 a year for full-time employees. Here in Las Vegas, the median hourly wage for all types of employment is $16.84 an hour, while fast-food workers median hourly wages are $9.67. The median annual wage for local fast food workers is $12,064. That’s less than the federal poverty line for all but a family of one ($11,490). According to the MIT Living Wage calculator for Clark County, Nevada, an adult with a child needs to make $20.67 an hour (working full-time) in order to provide basic living needs.
And despite the popular stereotype, most fast food workers are adults. For many, there is no way out of the cycle of poverty, and reliance of public assistance, because of the working conditions at the billion-dollar, multinational corporations. Taking notes out of Walmart’s storied playbook, work schedules are often designed to limit hours and to keep employees under the 40-hour threshold for benefits and better wages. Meanwhile, fast food workers are 50 percent more likely to need programs like food stamps.
The strikes have been the culmination of a tone-deaf response from the largest fast food chains — including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s — in regards to raising wages to a livable wage that would not require those working full-time to rely on government programs such as food stamps. In fact, 86 percent of the 20 million people — a sixth of the total US workforce, by the way — who work at McDonald’s live in poverty.
Indeed, when 2,200 workers went on strike in July, The Colbert Report featured a blistering indictment of the response from McDonald’s, which rolled out a program to help workers meet their needs on meager McJob-pay called “Practical Money Skills Budget Journal,” brought to you by Visa. (I’m not making that up.)
Here’s what we learned from their sample budget: McDonald’s expects its workers to get a second job. And their sample net income of $2,060 is the worst kind of cruel joke to workers whose median monthly income is $928 in Las Vegas.
Shaniqua Davis, 20, lives in the Bronx with her boyfriend, who is unemployed, and their 1-year-old daughter. Davis has worked at a McDonald’s a few blocks from her apartment for the past three months, earning $7.25 an hour. Her schedule varies, but she never gets close to 40 hours a week. “Forty? Never. They refuse to let you get to that (many) hours.”
Her weekly paycheck is $150 or much lower. “One of my paychecks, I only got $71 on there. So I wasn’t able to do much with that. My daughter needs stuff, I need to get stuff for my apartment,” said Davis, who plans to take part in the strike Thursday.
She pays the rent with public assistance but struggles to afford food, diapers, subway and taxi fares, cable TV and other expenses with her paycheck.
“It’s really hard,” she said. “If I didn’t have public assistance to help me out, I think I would have been out on the street already with the money I make at McDonald’s.”
The strike is being organized in a coordinated effort by clergy and social justice groups across the country, working in tandem with SEIU. Locally, the strike is being organized by ProgressNow Nevada and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Click here for more information and how to get involved.