Workers from area franchises marched on Broad Street to protest unfair pay and practices.
Published: Septemebr 11, 2014
By Bill Chenevert
At about noon on Sept. 4, a few hundred Philadelphians marched down North Broad Street from a McDonald’s on Girard Avenue to another franchise at Broad and Arch streets, just north of City Hall. Past the burgeoning North Broad dining district, past a Dunkin Donuts, the School District of Philadelphia headquarters and Benjamin Franklin High School, they marched and shouted for a fairer pay wage and action from their employers to improve their lives.
Workers from McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Popeye’s marched with signs and received support from Philadelphia City Councilman-at-Large W. WIlson Goode, Jr., Pastor Larry Patrick, the Philadelphia chapter of a national movement called 15 Now, as well as representatives from PA Working Families and the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.
“Philadelphia will be one of over 150 cities on strike across the country. Workers will be escalating their fight with a dramatic action at Broad and Arch following a rally with speaker and supporters” reads the press release from Fight for Philly, “a grassroots organization fighting for good schools, good jobs, a fair economy, and a city that works for all of us.”
What started in New York City in 2012, with 200 fast-food workers demanding $15 an hour and the right to form a union without fear of recourse, has spread throughout the country. Philadelphia joined the fight last spring, and, last week, about a dozen workers were arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
“This is not a sudden thing. This has been building for over the last couple of years. Pay has really stagnated for people, especially at the lower end, for really the last 30 years or so,” Mike Leeds, the Director of graduate studies in Temple University’s economics department and a professor of labor economics, said. “On the one hand, the people at the top are not being honest,” he added, but Leeds stressed that spending patterns reinforce existent patterns.
“The fault is in ourselves. That we are telling these people ‘Yeah, we want the low prices of a McDonald’s or a Walmart, but we’re upset when the workers are mistreated, and we’re upset when you have low pay’ — you can’t have both,” he contended.
The Pennsylvania minimum wage is $7.25, $2.83 for tipped employees who make more than $30 a month in tips (the employer has to compensate if the tips and the $2.83 per hour do not combine to reach a minimum wage). Pennsylvania is the only state in the mid-Atlantic not to have raised the minimum wage by some margin. Five states have raised it to $8.50 or more; New Jersey’s minimum wage sits at $8.25; Delaware $7.75; New York is at $8; and West Virginia’s tipped wage is at $5.80 per hour. Many states’ minimum and tipped wages match.
It’s not enough. Working families struggle to provide their children with adequate child and health care. Employees are strategically scheduled to avoid breaks and overtime; they can’t afford to take a sick day.
“Our managers talk to us like crap,” Shymara Jones, a 21-year-old mother of a 1-year-old son, who has worked at the Popeye’s, 800 S. Broad St., for five years before she found a second job at the Philadelphia International Airport pushing wheelchairs, said. “After I’ve been working there for five years, nothing got better. All it did was get worse.”
The Newbold resident was one of the disobedient and arrested.
“There were eleven of us that didn’t move, so they went one by one and asked us to move. When we didn’t move they told us we were under arrest,” she said, noting that the arresting officers were protest police and civil themselves.
“They’re one of the biggest corporations in the world; they’re extremely profitable,” John Dodds, the director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project and a Sept. 4 rally speaker, said. “It’s a question of how much they can exploit from people who are in fairly desperate circumstances, so the more workers that stand up, the less they’re gonna get away with.”
Workers talked about how hard it is to make a living, and Dodds requested a moment of silence for 32-year-old Maria Fernandes, a Newark, N.J. resident who died from carbon monoxide just weeks ago after napping between two of her four jobs.
Kati Sipp, the director of PA Working Families, was in attendance, too, and is hopeful that change is in the air.
“It feels like there’s a lot of potential to change right now,” she said, and pointed towards Starbucks’ recent agreement to alter its scheduling practices.
A computerized system, it allowed the company to schedule employees for maximum profit with as little humanity as possible.
“You can’t have a second job if you don’t know what your schedule is going to be like a week in advance,” Sipp said of a notion she’s familiar with. “As somebody who is a working parent, I know that I need predictability for if I can pick my kid up after school or if someone’s going to feed my kid at night if I’m at work.”
Sipp noted that, in Pennsylvania, it’s not lawful to raise a City wage above the state minimum wage, an archaic problem.
“Philly has a higher cost of living” than, say, rural Western Pennsylvania, Sipp said.
She’s not unrealistic, though.
“It would be much easier to get by on $15 per hour, [but] I think it’s unlikely that the state’s going to double the minimum wage,” she said.