OAKLAND, Calif. - Fast food workers and their supporters in East Bay communities from Fremont to Richmond joined thousands of their coworkers in some 60 cities around the country Aug. 29, demanding living wages, decent benefits, regular schedules and the right to form a union without retaliation.
Marches and rallies throughout the day at fast food outlets including Burger King, Jack in the Box, KFC and others wound up with a 5 p.m. gathering of hundreds outside a McDonald's near the Oakland Coliseum, along the route to Oakland International Airport. There, strikers, allies from the union movement, community supporters and elected officials addressed the crowd.
U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told the strikers, "You reflect what we're fighting for in Washington, D.C., and that is not just an increase in the minimum wage but a living wage. There's no way workers should have to work for minimum wage and still have to rely on food stamps, Section 8 and Medicaid."
Lee told the workers they have the backing of the 80-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, which she helps to lead. "I want you to know you have many members of Congress standing with you, wanting to see you achieve the goal of a living wage so you can take care of your families and live the American dream."
Among those addressing the rally was Consuelo, a worker at Jack-in-the-Box for eight years. "I used to be scared I'd be laid off, but I'm not scared anymore," she said. "I have a son - I can't support him on my pay. We're going to win $15 and a union," she declared, underscoring the theme of the day's actions.
Also taking the mic was former Walmart worker Dominic Ware, fired by the retail giant after he joined OUR Walmart's campaign for a living wage and decent conditions for workers there.
"They could not silence me, and they cannot silence us, because we're sticking together to bring about change," Ware said. Reflecting on the 50th anniversary celebrations just days before, he told the crowd, "that was the March on Washington, this is the March on Corporate America!"
Also joining actions during the day were several area elected officials, including Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and City Council President Patricia Kernighan, and Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle, who pledged his fellow supervisors' support for the fast food workers' demands.
Recalling President Obama's statement the previous day that every American deserves a living wage, health care and a pension plan, Valle urged the crowd to press the president to follow through on the Jobs Act: "He said it, now he's got to back it up!"
The California Employment Development Department says the average wage for a fast food cook in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties is $9.56 an hour, or just under $20,000 a year for a fulltime worker. Advocates point out that many fast food workers are forced to accept part-time hours, and many work multiple jobs and must rely on public assistance as they struggle to support their families.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW