Courtesy Nick WilliamsMcDonald's worker Nick Williams is one of thousands of fast food workers striking today to demand better wages.
Williams started working as a cashier at an Indianapolis McDonald's in March 2012 making $7.25 an hour — the federal minimum wage. A year later, he was promoted to line cook and was given hourly pay of $8.25.
Williams told Business Insider his take-home pay is just under $800 a month.
While his job is nearly full-time, Williams, 28, says his schedule is always capped off at 38 or 39 hours per week, making him ineligible for insurance benefits.
More than half of that goes to rent on the 2-bedroom apartment he shares with his chronically ill mother and disabled brother. The remaining $335 goes toward food, transportation and medical bills.
"I work almost every day and am eager for any shift they give me," Williams said. "I do everything I can to be a hard worker. It's disheartening when you can't even make ends meet."
Williams applied for food stamps, but was told his income was too high to qualify. Sometimes, his free employee meal at McDonald's is all he eats in a day.
"Because I live with family, we pool our resources for groceries, but sometimes we have to go without," Williams said. "Sometimes I come home from work and there's no food in the house."
The last time Williams treated himself to a movie, his favorite activity, was several months ago. He said he aspires to one day be able to go to the movies every weekend.
Williams recently fell ill with a sinus infection and went to a doctor. His bills totaled $600—nearly a month's wages.
Overtime is also out of the question. Part-time employees can be suspended for working more than 40 hours a week, Williams said.
Williams said he became involved in the strike after learning that his employer made $5.5 billion in profits last year.
He also learned his friend, a dishwasher at a small, locally-owned restaurant, makes a wage of $9.50 an hour — a wage he says sounded like a fortune.
"I felt completely betrayed because billions of dollars are extra and the people who work at McDonald's aren't making enough to live," Williams told Business Insider.
McDonald's CEO Don Thompson has defended his company's wages in the past.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV in July, Thompson said his company is an "above minimum-wage employer."
The striking workers are seeking a $15 hourly wage, but even that lofty increase wouldn't be enough for Williams to make ends meet.
An adult with one child needs to make $17.81 an hour working full time in the Indianapolis area to afford food, housing, and lodging, according to advocacy group Stand Up Chicago.
Williams is dubious about whether the strikes will be effective, but he isn't deterred.
"Even if my company isn't receptive, my voice will be heard no matter what," Williams said.
He's looking for a new job.
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