ST. LOUIS — About 50 protesters gathered Monday at the McDonald’s on Tucker Boulevard in St. Louis to demand $15 an hour for low-wage workers, union representation and the defunding of police.
The demonstration was part of an effort by the service industry, fast-food chains and gig economy to rally Monday with organized labor to protest systemic racism and economic inequality by staging rallies across the U.S. and around the world.
Organizers said tens of thousands of workers in 160 cities walked off the job for strikes inspired by the racial reckoning that followed the deaths of several Black men and women at the hands of police. Visible support came largely in the form of protests that drew people whose jobs in health care, transportation and construction do not allow them to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Betty Douglas has worked for McDonald’s for 14 years, she said. She still makes $10 an hour, which she said isn’t enough to cover her living expenses.
“McDonald’s is failing black and brown workers,” Douglas said. “With a billion-dollar company, that ain’t right. That’s why we’re here fighting. We need unions. They work us like slaves in the heat.”
Some protesters at Monday’s demonstration have been involved for years with the “Fight for $15” movement, a call to increase the federal minimum wage to $15. It last increased in July 2009, to $7.25.
The minimum wage in Missouri is set to increase slightly each year until it reaches $12 in 2023.
Several elected officials were at the event, including Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, a Democrat representing eastern St. Louis, and Rep. Doug Clemens, a Democrat representing part of north St. Louis County.
“Before I was a state representative, I was a low-wage worker for Jimmy John’s,” Aldridge told the crowd. “You cannot talk about economic justice without talking about racial justice. A lot of low-wage workers are workers of color. After work, they go into neighborhoods like Carr Square, like Walnut Park, (which) are over-policed. So not only does McDonald’s say their life doesn’t matter by not paying a fair wage, they go into a neighborhood where the police say their life doesn’t matter.”
The group marched down Tucker Boulevard chanting “We work, we sweat, put $15 on our check,” and “Hold ‘em burgers, hold ‘em fries, make my wages supersize.” More protesters followed the procession in cars with their flashers on, honking along with the chanting.
Rallies across the U.S.
The “Strike for Black Lives” was organized or supported by more than 60 labor unions and social and racial justice organizations, which planned a range of events in more than two dozen cities. Support swelled well beyond expectations, organizers said, although a precise participation tally was not available.
Where work stoppages were not possible for a full day, participants picketed during a lunch break or observed moments of silence while kneeling to honor police brutality victims including George Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis police custody in late May.
In San Francisco, 1,500 janitors walked off their jobs and planned to lead a march to City Hall later in the day. McDonald’s cooks and cashiers in Los Angeles and nursing home workers in St. Paul, Minnesota, also went on strike, organizers said.
At one McDonald’s location in Los Angeles, workers blocked the drive-thru for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, about the amount of time that prosecutors say a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for air.
In Manhattan, more than 150 union workers rallied outside Trump International Hotel to demand that the Senate and President Donald Trump adopt the HEROES Act, which provides protective equipment, essential pay and extended unemployment benefits to workers who cannot work from home. It has already been passed by the House.
As a light rain began to fall on St. Louis’ gathering, Starsky Wilson, President of the Deaconess Foundation, gave an impassioned speech to energize the small crowd.
“We stand not in fear of economic elites of the empire,” Wilson said. “We stand with no fear of police. … We ain’t even scared of a few drops of rain. Because we came here demanding and proclaiming $15 and a union. We demanded and we proclaimed the end of policing as we know it in this community. We demanded and we proclaimed that the workhouse would be closed, and it is already.”
Christine Green held one corner of a banner that read “Strike for Black Lives.” The banner was painted with black figures, fists in the air, and one McDonald’s worker flexing her arm like Rosie the Riveter. Green has worked for McDonald’s for 10 years, she said, but she wouldn’t be able to provide for her children on her wages alone.
“They don’t give us a raise,” Green said. “Child support helps me…(or) I wouldn’t have enough for transportation to take me back and forth to work.”
Associated Press contributed.