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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Atlanta fast-food workers demand better wages, right to unionize

Israel Matos strikes outside the McDonalds near Broad Street Plaza
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Israel Matos strikes outside the McDonald's near Broad Street Plaza in Downtown
Hundreds of Atlanta fast-food employees last week joined other food service workers across the country and protested to improve workers' rights.

Restaurant staff protested this past Thursday at several different fast-food chains, including a Burger King near Five Points, a McDonald's in Ormewood Park, and a Church's Chicken near the Starlight Six Drive-In Theatre. Their demands included raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and the right to unionize.

According to Atlanta Jobs with Justice, the city's more than 77,000 fast-food workers earn a median wage of $8.59 per hour and make approximately $10,700 each year.

Picketer Deonte Butler has worked at Church's Chicken for around two months. The 32-year-old southeast Atlantan, who has a six-year-old daughter, Deona, said he'll continue marching as long as it takes see changes happen.

"We're trying to get minimum wages up to $15 [per hour] so we can make ends meet," he said. "I get paid $7.25 [per hour]. By the time I cash my check and pay my bills, I've only got money to get to work next week and provide for my child."

Outside the McDonald's near Five Points, Subway employee Israel Matos told CL that he struggles to support his family with his $7.25 hourly current minimum wage. "I work 12 to 15 hours a day and I have no health benefits," he said.

The picketing occurred as part of a nationwide series of strikes in nearly 50 American cities including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Tampa. McDonald's said in a statement that increasing entry-level wages could lead to higher prices for its menu items. "That would potentially have a negative impact on employment and business growth in our restaurants, as well as value for our customers," the company said in a statement.

Several Atlanta lawmakers also showed up to support the protesters near Little Five Points. Congressman John Lewis, D-Atlanta, , standing outside the McDonald's on Marietta Street, called for "livable wages" for workers. State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said that fast-food employers need to take better care of their workers.

"The fast food industry, at some point, will have to start understand that minimum wage is not a good idea for them or the community in the 21st century," Fort said. "They changed with menus and healthy foods. This may be more difficult because of financial [implications], but hopefully they'll move in that direction given the public's opinion."

According to 11 Alive, the nationwide effort could be the largest strike in the $2 billion industry's history.

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