Milwaukee on Wednesday became the fifth major U.S. city to have a fast-food workers' strike, and Coleman (pictured above, holding a megaphone) said that he was inspired to join it because of the Chicago walkout in April. "Seeing people come together really hit me," says Coleman, who attended the Chicago rally as a guest of Wisconsin Jobs Now, a nonprofit organization campaigning to increase workers' wages. Hundreds of fast-food workers also have participated in one-day strikes in Detroit and St. Louis, after protests began in New York in November.
Coleman currently has no benefits at his job and is trying to support four children, with another expected to arrive in August. (His oldest two live with his first wife in Milwaukee, and he lives with his pregnant fiancee and her two children from a prior relationship.) "Eight dollars an hour would be a struggle if I had just one child on the way," he says, but with four, it's nearly impossible.
Choosing Milwaukee as the site of the latest fast-food protests was particularly striking, given the anti-union climate there. Wisconsin passed a law that stripped most public workers of collective bargaining rights. While it was overturned by a judge in September, it's still in effect for workers employed by the state government in Madison.
So far, no arrests have been reported in the Wisconsin strike. But at least one worker elsewhere reportedly was stymied when she tried to go back to work. According to The Nation, a Wendy's franchise in New York City initially blocked a striker from returning to her job, but community activists occupied and picketed that Wendy's until its management relented.
Coleman's employer, Yum Brands Inc., which owns Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC, recently was ranked by Bloomberg News as having the highest income-inequality among fast food brands. Bloomberg analyzed the pay gaps between workers and CEOs in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index of companies and reported that Yum Brands CEO David Novak earns an annual salary of $20.4 million, while workers at his company make an average of just $24,913 a year.
Yum Brands did not respond to request for comment from AOL Jobs. Other fast food chains, such as Burger King and McDonald's, also have declined comment on the protests.
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