The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

August 6, 2013

Will fast-food protests spur higher minimum wage?

(Continued)

But others are more skeptical and think if there is a winner, it's unions. The Service Employees International Union is providing financial support and staff to help train organizers for this campaign.

These protests show unions "still can appeal to and speak for workers who are on the fringes of the workforce — the less skilled, the part-timers and the immigrant workers," Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Massachusetts, wrote in an email.

These still are hard times, people are happy to be employed and the political climate in the House is not conducive for an increase, he adds. "The demonstrations are street theater and the rehabilitation of the image of American unions, but it's not going to drive new minimum wage policy," he wrote.

Scott DeFife, executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association, calls the protests a campaign "to disparage the industry," which he says operates on a tight profit margin. Doubling wages, he says, "would definitely have an impact on the creation of new jobs." He says it would be especially harmful for young people, for whom the jobless rate in some communities is already in the double digits.

Some fast food companies responded to the protests by saying they respect the rights of their workers.

And some who walked out used the media spotlight to talk openly about their financial struggles.

Kareem Starks, a 30-year-old father of two boys, 6 and 12, was laid off in 2011 from a $17.50-an-hour city job in New York. His unemployment benefits ran out and he turned to food pantries. Five months ago, he found work at McDonald's.

"I'm grateful they gave me an opportunity to feed my family and put food on the table, but it's not enough," he says. Starks supplements his income with a second job as a security guard, earning about $8 an hour. Together, he says, he brings home about $1,000-$1,100 every two weeks and needs food stamps to survive.

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