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Fast Food Wage War: Thousands of Protests Coming This Year, Says Movement Leader


They say, "the third time's a charm." However, that may not be the case for a string of protests held by fast-food workers who have been demanding their base wage be doubled to $15 an hour.

After making their case for the first time last November and then again in March, the so-called Fast Food Forward movement has just wrapped a third round of walkouts in seven cities. So far, they have little to show for their efforts, other than a slew of press clippings, but movement organizers say they'll be back at it again in a couple of months.

"It has now spread all over the country and thousands of workers [are] taking action," says community organizer Jonathan Westin, who spearheads the protests in New York City. "I would venture to say there will be thousands more later on this year. The movement is picking up."

Related: Fast Food Fight! Workers Protest for HUGE Minimum Wage Hike

With the undisclosed backing of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) — the nation's self-proclaimed fastest growing union, with over 2.1 million members — there's little doubt that there will be a fourth effort to get to $15 an hour, and probably a fifth and sixth attempt too, as Fast Food Forward pushes for better wages and benefits, as well as the right to organize.

Contrary to data from the Department of Labor, which shows that 4.7% of hourly workers are paid minimum wage or less, many of these employees also earn tips or commissions and most get a raise after the first month. While this nascent movement is calling on companies to pay what it considers to be "a living wage," they reject the idea that these low-skilled positions are stepping stones to bigger and better things.

"Some have worked years for nothing. We don't see that there is a way up in these jobs," Westin says, pointing out that studies have shown these are "the most dead-end jobs," where workers come in at the minimum wage and never get above $9 hour.

Related: The Great Wage Debate: Should Companies Pay Workers More?

To be sure, the revolt of the burger flippers has garnered a lot of attention, and there has been much analysis of how labor costs would impact the prices and profits of the biggest chains. "They are making more money than they have ever made, and they can afford to give people a raise," Westin says. "Putting money in the pockets of the lowest income people who are working every day to get by, we would see a huge benefit."

Westin is confident that the $15 movement will ultimately succeed, but economists point out that it would likely lead to a wage shifting. They predict that the lowest paid, most vulnerable workers would be replaced by workers flocking over from Walmart (WMT) and other low-wage destinations that make up the service sector.

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