McDonald’s workers’ fight an increased minimum wage goes overseas

Stephon Johnson | 11/13/2014, 12:28 p.m.
The local has gone global, as McDonald’s workers from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles traveled to eight countries on ...
McDonald's

The local has gone global, as McDonald’s workers from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles traveled to eight countries on three continents beginning this week to try and enlist fast-food workers, unions and elected officials in support of higher pay and the right to organize.

The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations organized the trip, and it’s the latest indicator of the growing movement that began in New York City two years ago. The trip comes months after workers from around the world came to New York City for the first ever global fast-food workers meeting. After that, workers in 33 countries organized protests in support of fast-food workers in America

“We’re a global movement now,” said South America-bound Dora Pena, a 50-year-old mother who worked as a custodian and cook at a Chicago McDonald’s for eight years and is paid $8.65 an hour, in a statement. “This fast-food worker movement is teaching a lot of people like me that we can speak up for ourselves, that we have rights and that we deserve more for our families.”

Pena still relies on public assistance to support her daughter. “We’re eager to take that lesson and share it with workers overseas.”

U.S. McDonald’s workers will visit nations like Denmark and Argentina, where McDonald’s lets workers organize and pays them what American workers call a “living wage.” They’ll also visit countries like the United Kingdom and the Philippines, where workers share the same struggles that U.S. employees do.

The movement continues to grow as the international market becomes increasingly important to the bottom line of fast-food companies due to slides in domestic sales. Nearly 60 percent of McDonald’s 35,000 stores are outside of the United States, and 70 percent of its revenues and more than half of its profits come from international operations. According to McDonald’s first quarter report in 2013, the goal is to “broaden accessibility to brand McDonald’s around the world.”

Massimo Frattini, the international coordinator of the IUF, said that the hard work of fast-food workers has brought millions of eyes to their cause despite management’s tactics.

“The industry is dominated by a handful of multibillion-dollar global companies, so we need to have a strong, global movement of workers pushing for better wages, better treatment and better rights,” said Frattini in a statement. “America’s fast-food workers have captured attention in and around the industry and beyond. Their mobilization offers an opportunity to transform the industry in many parts of the world.”

Moses Brooks, a 23-year-old cashier and cook from Riverside, Calif, said that no matter where you reside on the globe, workers’ rights are the same.

“Whether you’re in Los Angeles, Tokyo or Manila, we’re all fighting the same battles for better pay, union rights and respect on the job,” said Brooks, who is paid $9 an hour after three years on the job and relies on food stamps, in a statement. “This trip is about learning from each other, strengthening the ties between American fast-food workers and our colleagues abroad and building our movement globally.”