Milwaukee low wage workers walk off the job

Taking their cue from workers in St. Louis, Chicago, New York and Detroit, fast food workers took to the streets of Milwaukee on Wednesday in a one-day work stoppage to demand a $15.00 an hour wage.  


Workers came from behind the cash registers and out of the kitchens of such flagship fast food companies as McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.  


Low wage retailers such as Simply Fashion and Foot Action also saw their employees walk out in unity to demand the right to form a union without fear of retaliation.  Union and community groups stood with the workers in their demand for a living wage.


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the strike action “ended in a late-afternoon rally in the middle of W. Wisconsin Ave. in front of The Shops at Grand Avenue, where Katina Carter, organizer with Wisconsin Jobs Now, told more than 200 demonstrators that wages have to increase for the benefit of local economies. ‘How can Milwaukee neighborhoods survive if we don’t have enough money to put back into them?’  she asked.”


Milwaukee McDonald’s employee Stephanie Sanders noted, “About 65% of the jobs added since the recession have been low-wage ones and unfortunately, the Economic Policy Institute projects that one out of every four workers will be in low-wage jobs by 2020.”


Commenting on the nationwide phenomenon of unorganized workers taking to the streets Sanders said, “Fast food and retail outlets are the ‘new’ factory floor and like thousands of workers before us, we’re organizing to demand better pay and conditions.”


Wisconsin’s labor movement supported the one-day action. JSonline quotes Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO as saying, “The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO is proud to stand in solidarity with striking fast food workers whose actions today are calling attention to income inequality, worker exploitation, and the right to a living wage and to a union.”


The protest comes on the heels of a shocking report released in April that revealed Wisconsin to have the highest rate of incarcerated African American males in the nation.


In an opinion-editorial published earlier this month in the Journal Sentinel, John Pawasarat, director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute wrote, “Prison time is the most serious barrier to employment for Wisconsin male workers, making ex-offender populations the most difficult to place and sustain in full-time employment. When driver’s licensing history is also considered, transportation barriers make successful labor force attachment even less likely.”


Low wage jobs, such as fast food and discount retail, remain the only option for many of those struggling to feed their families.

Photo: Milwaukee fast food workers in this 2012 photo demonstrate for higher wages (Light Brigading/CC).