Dozens of fast-food workers from across Central Texas walked off the job Thursday, hitting the streets to call for higher pay.
A group of about 200 people — which included striking workers and their supporters — marched along Guadalupe Street near the University of Texas campus at noon, holding signs and chanting “We can’t survive on $7.25” and “Hey, fast food … you’ve got cash. Why do you pay your workers trash?” as they passed a number of well-known fast-food restaurants, such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s.
The restaurants remained open for business, with many motorists zipping past the crowd to grab a quick lunch.
The protesters said their goal is for wages in the fast food industry to be increased to $15 per hour.
That would be more than double the current federal minimum wage, which is $7.25. The average Austin-area fast-food worker makes slightly more – $8.83 per hour – according to figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Austin police reported no major incidents related to the local march. The protest in Austin was one of an estimated 50 that took place nationwide Thursday, part of what organizers say was likely the largest-ever strike by U.S. fast-food workers.
Protesters such as Amanda Longoria, who works at an Austin Wendy’s restaurant, say they’re barely scraping by on fast-food wages.
“It’s really hard trying to make the money work,” she said. “I feel like I work harder than what they’re giving me.”
Restaurant industry officials say raising pay would also cause food prices to rise. They also say fast-food jobs are primarily designed for teens and young adults just entering the workforce, not people looking to support a family long term.
“We provide training and professional development for all of those who wish to take advantage of those opportunities,” McDonald’s said in a written statement. “Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald’s and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald’s.”
Workers and their supporters at Thursday’s march said corporations like McDonald’s can afford to pay higher wages.
“I’m trying to be a provider for my family, but I’m working for a multimillion-dollar corporation that’s paying me pennies,” said Gregory Lee, who works at Long John Silver’s making minimum wage.
“I completely understand what they’re going through,” said Jae Townley, a home health care worker and single mom who came to offer support to protesters.
Townley said she, too, makes minimum wage and, “by the time I pay my rent and cellphone, I don’t have anything left. I’m all for raising the minimum wage so I can survive.”
Lee and other striking workers say they know walking off the job Thursday might have put them at risk of being disciplined or fired, but it’s a step they were still willing to take.
“Whatever happens,” Lee said, “I feel this is the right thing to do.”