A rolling nationwide strike of fast food restaurants hit Seattle tonight, as workers at a Ballard Taco Bell walked off the job to demand higher wages and the right to organize without retaliation. "It's the right thing to do, and that's all it comes down to," 21-year-old Caroline Durocher told me while preparing for the 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift on which she earns the Washington State minimum wage of $9.19 an hour.
Goldy | The Stranger
Local organizers expect workers at dozens of Seattle restaurants representing several national fast food chains to join Taco Bell workers tomorrow in a citywide strike. Similar fast food strikes have already hit New York City, central Pennsylvania, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. But while these one-day strikes are related, they are organized locally by coalitions of community groups. In Seattle, organizers from Good Jobs Seattle—a campaign supported by OneAmerica, Washington CAN, and labor-backed Working Washington—reached out to local fast food workers and found them quickly receptive.
"Local organizers came into my store and said we want to help you make a living wage, and I said "Awesome," explains Durocher. "I want to make a living wage, so let's do it."
Durocher says it was an easy decision for her and her coworkers. "What we're getting right now isn't fare and not right," complains Durocher, who works an average of only 27 hours a week. "I would love to work more, but they keep us all just below full time so that we don't get benefits." As for fear of retaliation for the walkout, Durocher says that she was surprised by how unanimous it's been. "Not one single person has said 'what if we get fired?' Nobody is afraid. It's really cool."
According to statistics provided by Good Jobs Seattle, there are approximately 33,000 fast food workers in the Seattle metro area, earning a median wage of $9.50 an hour, one of the lowest wages of any occupation in the region. It's poverty wages like this that helps make the popular "dollar menus" possible, but Durocher says that customers overlook the impact it has on fast food workers. "It's easy to not think about the person serving you your food," says Durocher. "We definitely get disrespected a lot and looked down upon for being in fast food."
It's this lack of respect that striking workers are also striving to overcome, both from the public and from their employers. But while unions are supporting their efforts, this isn't your stereotypical union organizing drive. "It's not like we're forming a union, we're forming a movement," says Durocher, who credits the example set by Occupy Wall Street for some of the inspiration behind the movement. "I think people saw that people can organize and can have a voice," says Durocher.
As for what she and her co-workers hope to get out of the movement, Durocher stayed firmly on message: "I hope we get a living wage, and the right to organize without retaliation." And thus a movement is born.
UPDATE (12:42 a.m.): Initially, only Durocher walked out, although another off-duty co-worker joined her on the picket. Durocher says her other nonsupervisory co-worker on the three-person late night shift "chickened out at the last minute," but she understands her reluctance. "We fast food workers can't afford to lose our jobs," says Durocher. "We need them."
But eventually, after further conversation with Durocher, and despite a steady stream of traffic into the drive thru, the other two workers shut down the Taco Bell two hours early "due to short staffing." Whether or not you can classify that as a "walkout," the end result was the same.