Fast-food workers again walk out of job in St. Louis, other cities


by Erik Sherman / CBS News and staff

Posted on July 30, 2013 at 7:38 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 30 at 9:48 AM

Fast-food workers in St. Louis and six other cities on Tuesday again walked off their job in protests over low wages.

The employees, many of whom are paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, are demanding $15 an hour, while many say they also want union representation.

The first day of strikes took place Monday in St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Mich., Kansas City, Mo., Milwaukee, New York at various Burger King, Domino’s, KFC, McDonald’s and Wendy’s franchises.

The group STL Can’t Survive on 7-35 is leading the movement locally. Members of the United Mine Workers of America, in conjunction with the Arch Coal action, were also expected to join food, clergy and community supporters on the strike lines.

The group had rallies scheduled at an East St. Louis McDonalds, a Ballwin Wendy’s and the Arch Coal Corporation before culminating with a protest at Kiener Plaza at 4:30 p.m.

Although some data show that consumers are increasingly confident about the economy, a large class of workers are on the edge, receiving low pay and no benefits.

Although the labor unrest has to date has remained fairly small in scale, some experts think it has the potential to grow much larger. When people become desperate, they may see little risk in taking action. For strikers, the goal is to pressure companies that have ridden low wages to new heights of profitability to reconsider their business models.

Companies have two basic ways of increase their profits to shareholders: grow revenue or reduce costs. Keeping a tight control on costs has become an imperative in corporations since the 1980s, when companies and Wall Street started to realize how much profit was lost in waste.

But aggressive cost control, coupled with productivity gains and egged on by public policy, hasdecoupled median household income from growth in productivity and per-capita GDP for more than 20 years. Even as the wealthiest grew ever richer, most of the country lost ground when taking inflation into account.

Just since the recession that officially ended in 2009, most Americans lost 55 percent of their wealth. About 80 percent of adult Americans “struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives,” according to a recent AP poll.

For those earning around the minimum wage, the struggle is constant. Someone making $7.25 an hour will gross $15,080 for 52 weeks of work a year, assuming that the person can get 40 hours of week. Employers of low-wage workers are frequently restricting the number of hours employees can work, keeping them on technically part-time to avoid the cost of benefits that would be mandated for full-time.

According to the Living Wage project, a single adult in New York would need to make $12.75 an hour, which is far above the $9 an hour minimum wage that New York State has plans to implement over the next three years. Add a child and the number jumps to $24.69. In Chicago, that adult would need $10.48. In Milwaukee, $9.48. A living wage in Flint, Mich., is $8.57.

Put differently, in Flint, an economically depressed city in a state with a $7.40 minimum wage, an hourly worker at the low end is making nearly 16 percent too little to get by. An adult with two children at minimum wage in the city would be below the poverty line.

Low-wage workers typically have few options when it comes to finding a higher paying job. That could spell trouble for their current employers, possibly through an increase in union activity, even as union share of the workforce hit a 97-year low recently. Labor unions are one of the organizing sponsors of the fast-food walkouts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly wages of unionized workers are 27 percent higher than those of non-union workers. Unlike manufacturing firms, fast0food operations and other service-based industries don’t have the option of outsourcing cooking, selling and cleaning to other parts of the world.

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Military officials gave a congressional delegation a tour of Guantanamo’s secretive Camp Seven last week and told a visiting congressional delegation that the camp’s high-value detainees enjoy the Shades of Grey series, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) told The Huffington Post.

“Rather than the Quran, the book that is requested most by the [high-value detainees] is Fifty Shades of Grey. They’ve read the entire series in English, but we were willing to translate it,” Moran, who advocates for closing the facility, told HuffPost. “I guess there’s not much going on, these guys are going nowhere, so what the hell.”

The Fifty Shades anecdote came during a tour which included the commander of the base, the deputy commander of the base, the head medical official and the officer in charge of Camp Seven, according to Moran. “We had everybody there, there was no dispute of that,” he said.

Though providing the congressional delegation a tour of the camp—a view of which is also available on Google Maps—military officials will not acknowledge its existence to the press. When asked about what is also referred to internally as Camp Seven, officials decline to answer questions on or regarding the subject. It’s not surprising, then, that officials would not say whether the high-value detainees enjoyed the erotic books. Guantanamo has a detainee library including DVDs and books, but sexual content is typically screened.

“We don’t discuss our high-value detainees except in the most generic terms,” Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told HuffPost. “Further, we do not discuss the assertions made by members of Congress.”

On the trip with Moran were Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and William Lietzau, the Pentagon’s chief of detainee policy, who just announced he is stepping down.

Moran, who last visited Guantanamo in 2006, said things seemed much more organized on this trip.

“In 2006, I didn’t get the sense they had their act together like they do now, they anticipate every question that’s going to be asked, the facilities look fairly clean, they’re ready to show you everything that’s been discussed outside the prison in terms of force-feeding, isolated confinement versus communal living, etc. and we were able to see the communal living,” Moran said. “I was within a foot or two or three of the prisoners in the communal setting, but of course those are the well-behaved ones.”

Conditions in Camp Seven more closely resemble maximum security federal prisons, said Moran, who noted that none of the high-value detainees were taking part in the hunger strike. There are believed to be 15 or 16 high-value detainees living in Camp Seven, but military officials wouldn’t confirm those numbers directly to the press. Moran said that high-value detainee Ramzi bin al Shibh “screamed the whole time” the delegation was in Camp Seven and prison officials said the other high-value detainees don’t like him.

“He hears voices and he complains all the time, and he really is disruptive. So they say if the other 15 could have one wish granted it would to be to get rid of their colleague,” Moran said.

Moran said the Obama administration could be doing more to try to close Guantanamo and he doesn’t expect upcoming elections will make it more difficult on the congressional side.

“It’s not going to change in the elections of 2014, and I just don’t see closing it down as working,” he said.

“The White House could be doing everything if it wanted to do so, if it chose. It has the executive authority to waive this,” he said. “I think there are congressional, legal restrictions, but it’s also political pushback. I think the real area is political liability. This whole thing has to be seen in a political context.”

Moran said President Obama has the bully pulpit necessary to convince Americans of the need to close Guantanamo.

“I think the president is on the right page, he’s of the right mind, but I don’t think he’s willing to do what would needed to be done,” he said. “I’m not sure I understand why, because he’s not going to be up for reelection, and I do think this would be something that would matter because it certainly mattered to him when he was running.”