Get a clue, McDonald's! Why I'm walking off my fast food job today

From stolen wages to nearly fainting from working in 95 degree kitchen, we just can't take this anymore

Published September 4, 2014 2:33PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)
(Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

For the 12 years I worked as an elementary school teacher, bake sales were always a source of pride – for my students, their parents, and yes, teachers too. I still participate in them, only now it’s me doing the baking, and not for donation.

When my younger sister’s severe mental health issues worsened, I had to leave teaching to take care of her. The best job I could find that still worked for our family was at a McDonald's in Kansas City, Kansas, where I earn $7.45 an hour.

Along with cutting hair, selling Legal Shield and Avon products online and baby sitting, selling baked goods at my church helps pay the bills that my fast-food job won’t. It’s a means of survival for my five children and me.

September used to mean the beginning of the school year and a new incoming class of students. This year, it means getting ready to go on strike.

Today, thousands of fast-food workers in more than 150 cities nationwide, myself included, will walk off our jobs. We’re prepared to risk arrest; to show fast-food companies that we are willing to do whatever it takes to win $15 and union rights; to show them that no one can survive on $7.45.

Earlier this year, I decided that my family is worth more than the some $50 a month I have left after paying rent and monthly bills. I walked off my job at McDonald’s on May 15, joining thousands of workers across the country to call for higher pay and the right to organize a union without retaliation. Though it was the first time I’ve gone on strike, I stood next to fast-food workers who have struck three, four, five times in the past 18 months.

Today, workers will show the industry just how far we’ve come since May. More important, fast-food companies will see just how committed we are to winning $15 and union rights.

As victories have piled up – from the first-ever citywide $15 wage in Seattle, to a recent ruling that says McDonald’s can no longer hide behind franchisees for its poor treatment of workers – fast-food workers have strengthened our resolve and grown our movement.

At the first-ever fast-food workers’ convention in July, I joined 1,300 workers from 50 cities to cement our commitment to this cause. Cooks, cashiers and maintenance workers – young and old, of all races and backgrounds – realizing we are worth more. Working mothers and fathers recognizing that if we speak out as individuals we are ignored, but if we speak out together as a union our voices are heard.

Meeting workers from every corner of the country with similar experiences, and seeing their tenacity, we realized that this fight is bigger than any one worker, or city, or company.

This fight is for my children and younger sister, and the countless families of fast-food workers. It’s for my parents and grandparents, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s for my uncle Melvin, a former sanitation worker whom Dr. King was supporting when he was killed in Memphis in 1968, who understood that justice wouldn’t come easily, but through perseverance and even personal risk.

It’s for my co-workers, those who have almost fainted after working in kitchen temperatures nearing 95 degrees – or 105 near the stove – and those who regularly have their hours docked and wages stolen. It’s for fast-food managers and franchisee owners like mine, who face relentless pressure and frequent visits from corporate to keep labor costs down and profits up.

That’s what fast-food companies like McDonald’s don’t understand. They think they can ignore us; that we’ll get discouraged; that our movement will fizzle out; that somehow the challenges we face will simply go away. They deflect responsibility for an outdated business model, and refuse to accept that we aren’t high schoolers looking for extra money but mothers and fathers trying to put our children through high school.

But they don’t realize that this is a fight for all of us, for all Americans. And they certainly don’t think that we have what it takes to stick it out and win.

If fast-food workers can win $15, so can others. And when workers have more money in their pockets, we spend it, lifting the entire economy.

At the convention, we chanted, “We believe that we will win.” It wasn’t just a chant, but a sign of our optimism and dedication.

Fast-food companies might not believe it, but today they’ll see it. Fast-food workers, like me, willing to do whatever it takes for $15 and a union.

By Andrew McConnell

Andrew McConnell, 31, has an education degree from Howard University and is the father of the three daughters and two sons.

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