Why do fast-food workers strike?

No occupation is lower paid across the board, argues this article. Fast-food workers are pressing a demand for pay of at least $15 an hour, far more than the $9 or so that is typical for the industry. Here’s how their wages compare with other jobs in the economy.

By , Christian Science Monitor Staff writer / May 15, 2014

Fast food workers and supporters protest low wages outside a Krispy Kreme store, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Atlanta.David Goldman/AP

As fast-food workers and labor organizers used a nationwide day of protest to demand pay of at least $15 per hour in the industry, their motivations were summed up in different ways.

Some workers talked of wanting to earn enough to cover more than their rent.

Strike organizers argued that the industry’s typical pay of about $9 an hour is not a “living wage.” (Working 35 hours per week at that rate nets $16,380 per year. Although that’s above the official poverty line for one or two people, it doesn’t go far.)

Selmira Wilson, a protester in Miami who works at McDonalds, said that to support her three children she cleans offices at night “just to get by,” according to a Reuters report.

On top of those, here’s one more factor to tuck into the mix: No occupation out of the more than 1,300 tracked by the US Labor Department is lower paid.

The occupation “Cooks, Fast Food” clocked in at $9.07 in the survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) a year ago. That was less than half the nation’s average hourly wage of $22.33.

Fast-food cooks were followed by “Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food” ($9.08 per hour), “Shampooers” ($9.09 per hour), “Fast Food and Counter Workers” ($9.13 per hour), and Dishwashers ($9.22 per hour).

Of all the occupations that earn on average below $10 per hour, the list includes a number of others related to food services, as well as ticket takers, cashiers, and farm laborers.

When the occupations are simplified into 438 broad categories for which the BLS can track hourly wages, 360 of them earn an average pay rate of at least $15 an hour – the wage the strikers are seeking.

Only 18 percent of the broad occupations earn less than $15 an hour. But lots of workers are employed in those positions – nearly 48 million workers in all, or 36 percent of the workers tracked by the BLS.

Here’s a list of some representative occupations ranked by average hourly pay:

• $9.00 to $14.99 an hour (36 percent of workers) The jobs already mentioned, plus home health aides, childcare workers, tellers, meat processing workers, telemarketers, building cleaners, retail sales persons, security guards.

• $15.00 to $22.33 – the national average – (26 percent of workers) Customer service representatives, bill collectors, truck drivers, construction laborers, logging workers, administrative assistants, welders, preschool teachers, correctional officers, heating and air conditioning mechanics.

• $22.34 to $34.99 (20 percent of workers) Firefighters, social workers, news reporters, postal workers, brickmasons, derrick operators, paralegals, electricians, plumbers, computer support specialists, librarians, aircraft mechanics, registered nurses, accountants.

• $35.00 to $49.99 (7 percent of workers) Detectives, logisticians, computer system administrators, engineers (including civil and mechanical), construction managers, air traffic controllers, mathematicians.

• $50.00 to $92.25 (5 percent of workers) Engineers (chemical, aerospace, and nuclear), operations managers, pharmacists, lawyers, dentists, chief executives. Physicians and surgeons came out at the top of the list, at $92.25 per hour, just ahead of chief executives at $85.77.

For some occupations, especially teaching but also legislators and many airline workers, the BLS survey offers no wage data. Those asterisks in the data account for another 5 percent or so of workers.


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