Workers, union staffers and sympathizers in Tacoma on Thursday joined a nationwide strike designed to draw attention to the plight of fast food workers making the minimum wage.
Like other protesters in some 60 cities, the workers in Tacoma on Thursday sought minimum wage increases from the present $9.19 an hour (the highest state minimum wage in the country) to $15 an hour.
The first Tacoma protest occurred outside an Arby’s restaurant at 6330 Sixth Avenue at 10 a.m. More than a dozen pickets carrying signs chanted slogans and heard speeches.
Their visible protest drew honks from several sympathetic drivers along the busy arterial.
Karl Balogh, a meat slicer at the Sixth Avenue Arby’s, said he works 30 hours earning minimum wage at that restaurant and 40 hours weekly at a McDonalds in Gig Harbor making $10.75 an hour to make ends meet.
“It’s not fair. The workers are making poverty wages while the corporations are making billions,” said Balogh.
Most weeks Balogh works every day to accommodate the restaurants’ schedules.
Austin Scheen, a shift supervisor at a Papa John’s pizza outlet on Pacific Avenue, said he thinks the franchise owners for whom he works are sensitive to the workers’ plights, but the parent corporation is not.
Scheen said he works 40 hours weekly at the Pacific Avenue restaurant and seeks overtime work at other Papa John’s to supplement his income.
“I need the hours to pay my bills,” said the 22-year-old who has worked for Papa John’s since he was 16.
He has plans to become a paralegal and eventually work for a record company if he can find the time and money to complete his schooling.
He said he receives no benefits.
Workers at the Papa John’s said the picketing did not disrupt operations at the store.
The manager at the Arby’s restaurant asked protesters to leave the restaurant property soon after the picketing began. The protest moved to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.
The protests are drawing logistical and financial support from the Service Employees International Union.
The Arby’s manager said she could not discuss the protests.
Tacoma was just one of many cities that saw workers protesting minimum wages. In Seattle, dozens of people gathered outside a Subway to chant for a $15 minimum wage. Workers inside said they stayed open during the demonstration, and customers were still able to buy sandwiches.
Thursday’s walkouts and protests reached about 60 cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, organizers said. But the turnout varied significantly, with some targeted restaurants seemingly operating normally and others temporarily unable to do business because they had too few employees.
McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say they don’t make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants. At restaurants that McDonald’s owns, the company said, any move to raise entry-level pay would raise overall costs and lead to higher menu prices.
McDonald’s said it provides professional development for interested employees and that the protests don’t give an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald’s.
“We respect our employees’ rights to voice their opinions. Employees who participate in these activities and return to work are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts as usual,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Wendy’s said in a statement that it was “proud to provide a place where thousands of people, who come to us asking for a job, can enter the workforce at a starting wage, gain skills and advance with us or move on to something else.”
Starbucks spokesman Zack Huston said the strikes have not affected the company’s stores. He noted that Starbucks workers earn “competitive wages” and affordable health care that other retailers do not provide for part-time workers.
Subway and Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.