Atlanta Fast Food Workers Organize Minimum Wage Protests; More to Come

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    fast food protesters minimum wageEmployees of fast-food restaurants in Atlanta have again joined the nationwide call for higher wages and an increase to the federal minimum wage. More than 20 employees marched several blocks to the Krystal on Moreland Ave. in southeast Atlanta at around 6 a.m. Thursday, holding signs, chanting and calling for an increase in pay to $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

    A group of workers held a similar protest outside the McDonald’s on Moreland Avenue in August, WSB-TV reports. Jobs with Justice, a coalition of community activist groups, estimates there are 77,000 fast-food workers in Atlanta earning an average of $8.50 an hour.

    The Atlanta group is a part of a “strike wave,” which includes at least 100 cities nationwide. Another protest is planned for 5 p.m. Thursday.

    The one-day protests, which have also taken place in St. Louis, Milwaukee, New York, Flint, Mich., and other cities around the country, have come amid calls from some members of Congress and economists to raise the federal minimum wage, which was last increased in 2009.

    The groups also appear to have the support of President Barack Obama, who spoke about the issues of income inequality and the growing gap between rich and poor Americans on Wednesday night at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Obama said that the increase of disparity between wages for the top earners and those at the bottom is threatening the ideals the country was founded upon. Making sure that the U.S. economy works for every working American is “the defining challenge of our time,” Obama said during the speech.

    “The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough, but the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty, because she lacks a decent education or health care or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us,” Obama said.

    The president also called for an increase in the federal minimum wage during the speech, saying a raise for minimum-wage earners is a good step for families and the economy as a whole.

    Democrats in Congress have also pushed for an increase in the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 an hour. A proposal would boost it to about $10, and the White House has said Obama supports such a measure.

    The strikes by the fairly small Atlanta group and others of different size and scale around the country are intended to build on a campaign that began a year ago to call attention to the difficulties of living on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 a year for a full-time employee. And in July, more than 100 economists signed a petition supporting a bill sponsored by a Florida congressman that would hike it to $10.50 an hour.

    More than half of fast food workers have to rely on public assistance programs since their wages aren’t enough to support them, a new report found.

    According to a University of California Berkeley Labor Center and University of Illinois study out Tuesday, 52 percent of families of fast food workers receive assistance from a public program like Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. That’s compared to 25 percent of families in the workforce as a whole.

    The National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, called the demonstrations a “campaign engineered by national labor groups,” and said the vast majority of participants were union protesters rather than workers.

    The group added that past demonstrations “have fallen well short of their purported numbers” and many have argued that a $15 hourly wage could lead to businesses closings and fewer jobs.

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