(KMOV.com) -- Workers at more than 20 fast-food restaurants in the St. Louis region went on strike Thursday to push for higher wages, better working conditions and a union.
The fast-food strikes come a day after employees at two restaurants in St. Louis walked out.
Rasheen Aldridge and a couple of his co-workers did not report Wednesday for their 11 a.m. shift at the Jimmy John’s sandwich shop in Soulard.
Instead, they stood outside carrying protest signs with a group of supporters while four community activists entered the shop and notified the manager that those workers were on strike.
Later Wednesday, a handful of McDonald’s workers did the same at a location in Ferguson.
These employees said they are expected to be joined by dozens of more fast food workers on Thursday in the St. Louis region in a push for higher wages, better working conditions, and the right to form a union without retaliation.
This is the third strike among fast food workers to hit a big city in recent weeks.
As in those efforts in others cities, the St. Louis workers are asking for $15 an hour instead of wages that hover closer to the minimum, which is $7.35 an hour in Missouri.
“I realize I’m not the CEO of a fast food company,” said 19-year-old Aldridge, a student at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park.
But he said the $8 an hour he makes at Jimmy John’s is not proper compensation for his work. It’s not enough, for example, to pay for repairs to his car, which he sometimes uses to deliver sandwiches.
While Aldridge granted that $15 an hour may be a lofty goal, he said it was a good starting point for negotiations.
In total, the strike is expected to hit more than 20 restaurant locations around the St. Louis region and includes a wide range of fast food and “fast casual” establishments such as McDonald’s, Panera, Chipotle, Jack in the Box, Hardee’s, Domino’s and Wendy’s.
The strike, which is supposed to be mostly a one-day affair, will culminate with a rally in the Delmar Loop Thursday afternoon.
“The numbers are fluid,” the Reverend Martin Rafanan, Co-Chairman of the Missouri Jobs with Justice Workers’ Rights Board, said of the number of workers who are planning to strike. “But they are growing.”
Rafanan, who used to run a homeless shelter in St. Louis, said about two out of five women who sought refuge there were working in low-wage jobs. He said many of them in fast food and retail.
“Why can’t multinational corporations, many of them make millions, if not billions, in profit,” asked Rafanan, “not pay workers a wage that allows them to take care of their family?”
In a statement, McDonald’s said that it and its franchisees work hard to treat employees with dignity and respect.
“Employees are paid competitive wages and have access to a range of benefits to meet their individual needs,” the statement said. “In addition, employees who want to go from crew to management can take advantage of a variety of training and professional development opportunities.”
Stephen Cole, Executive Director of the Missouri Restaurant Association, said that each business operator has to balance labor costs against the revenue coming in.
“Our membership pays their workers in a fair, equitable way based on market conditions,” Cole said.
An effort to get an initiative on the ballot last year to raise the minimum wage in Missouri by $1 failed.
But in recent months, a coalition of community, labor, and faith-based groups launched a campaign called “STL Can’t Survive on $7.35.” The decision to hold a strike grew out of that campaign’s meetings with workers.
Organizers have also recently formed an independent union for fast food workers, the St. Louis Organizing Committee.
The dozens of St. Louis workers expected to take part in the strike are a small fraction of the thousands who work in the growing fast food industry in this region.
Paul Sonn, legal co-director for the National Employment Law Project, noted that the fast food industry lost jobs at half the rate as the rest of the economy during the recession.
“Now, during the recovery, it is adding jobs at twice the rate as the rest of the economy,” he said. “So more and more adults are spending significant portions of their career in one of the lowest-wage occupations in our economy.”
But pay has remained essentially flat, if not dropped in real terms, for fast food workers over the last decade, Sonn added.
23-year-old Patrick Leeper planned to walk out on his shift Thursday at the Chipotle in the Delmar Loop, where he has worked for more than three years. He said he makes about $8.55 an hour, which is not enough to cover his living expenses.
“When I get my paycheck, it’s barely enough to pay the rent and hopefully a utility bill or two,” said Leeper. “The fast food industry needs to change, because too many people are struggling.”
For Aldridge, the issue is not just wages and schedules, but also respect. He listed a number of complaints, such as being scheduled for 4.5 hour shifts instead of 5 hours, which would guarantee him a sandwich and a break.
And he recounted how one day after making minor mistakes with some sandwiches, a manager told him to hold up a sign that said “I made three wrong sandwiches” and took a picture of him. In one case, he said he had put the turkey and roast beef in the wrong order and in another he put eight hot peppers on a sandwich instead of five.
“I’m fed up with my store,” he said.
John Strauser, an area manager for Jimmy John’s, said he and the franchise owner had no comment.
Here is a list of places where workers are expected to walk out on Thursday:
8 a.m. - Hardee's at 2110 Hampton
10 a.m. - Wendy's at 9604 Manchester
12 p.m. - Arby's at 4111 Lindell
4:30 p.m. - Rally and march at Kingsland and Delmar
5:00 p.m. - Church's Chicken at 6190 Delmar
5:30 p.m. - Rally and concert at Leeland and Delmar