Still, Harris was on the picket lines Friday, the largest protest held by fast food workers in the U.S. Detroit was the fourth American city in which fast food workers staged walkouts, starting with one in New York in November 2012. The Detroit workers, like fast food workers in the three other cities, are calling for a doubling of the minimum wage to $15 an hour. They're also demanding full-time schedules so that employers will provide medical benefits. "Workers should be treated fairly for their work," says Harris, who is single. "The more we stand together, another form of enslavement will be broken."
The Detroit workers represent 60 different fast-food chains, according to the Michigan Workers Organizing Committee, a coalition of community and labor groups that led the protest. By Friday afternoon, the strikes causes the early closing of at least four fast-food restaurants in the Detroit area, according to the organizers.
Employers including Burger King have yet to respond to requests for comment from The Detroit News and The Associated Press.
So far, protests have occurred in Chicago, New York, and St. Louis.
The fast food protests mark a new chapter for labor activism in America. As service jobs continue to take on a larger role in the American economy, jobs like fast-food work are no longer just for teens, earning pocket money; these jobs have become the only means for adults to support themselves and their families.
Activists are hoping to turn these jobs into livable wages. But as it currently stands, the average worker in "food preparation" earns a salary of $18,720 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual salary for all Americans, however, stands at roughly $41,000.
New activism for workers has also focused on the retail sector, which, like fast food, is fast-growing but offers poorly paying jobs. And protesters have targeted the country's largest retailer Walmart, which employs 1.2 million Americans. But according to Salon.com, some Walmart workers have been fired this past year for trying to protest for better working conditions.
Harris, for his part, only barely makes enough to pay his bills and pay his rent. Even though he's not able to put away any money for college, he says he'd eventually like to study to work in human resources, or something that involves "paperwork and numbers." He's also working on a book about personal faith, he says.
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