Fast Food Workers In Another City Strike: 'We've Been Pushed To The Edge'

Caroline Durocher, Taco Bell server and Seattle strikerFast food workers in Seattle walked off their jobs late Wednesday and Thursday. That made Seattle the seventh city where fast food workers have gone on strike in recent months. A Taco Bell server in Seattle explains here why she (along with her co-workers) walked off the job Wednesday night -- shutting down a Taco Bell restaurant. Taco Bell declined to comment, referring inquiries to the National Restaurant Association, which stressed the industry provides "13 million job opportunities" and remains "one of the best paths to achieving the American dream." The full statement is below.

By Caroline Durocher

My employer has pushed and pushed my co-workers and me and gotten everything they can out of us. This week, we joined together and pushed back.

I was one of the first fast-food workers to walk off the job Wednesday night in Seattle, and on Thursday more workers are continuing to take a stand for a raise to $15 an hour and the right to organize without retaliation.

We work in one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, and our companies are making huge -– even record -– profits, but we don't see enough of that money. We barely earn enough to pay for basics like rent, food and transportation to and from work.

I have worked low-wage jobs since I was 16 years old, and now, at 21, am reluctantly sharing a studio apartment with my dad, working the late shift at Taco Bell.

More: McDonald's Pushes Employees To Be Cheerier

That's not the life I envisioned for myself three years ago, when I was working full time, while studying for an associate of arts degree. I was planning to continue my education and become a psychologist. That was the plan, and that's still the plan. But my school costs became too much of a burden, and I had to leave, just a few credits shy of my degree.

sign posted at a Seattle fast food restaurant apologizing for short staffingAnd now I feel stuck in this trap -– the trap of low-wage work. I work the night shift at Taco Bell in Ballard –- running the register for the drive-through, ringing up one customer while taking the order of another. It's fast-paced, hard work, but at the minimum wage of $9.19 per hour and only 27 hours per week, I don't earn enough to make ends meet.

When I ask for more hours, my boss always says the same thing: hours are competitive -– the harder you work, the more hours you'll get. But I work hard, and I haven't gotten any more hours.

I am stuck in a tough spot. I can't get enough hours to get health insurance, but I only qualify for $16 a month in food stamps, which I finally decided wasn't even worth the transportation costs to continue to get them. I can't get a better-paying job, especially without a degree, but I can't afford to go back to school.

More: Taco Bell Receives Amazing Application

So when I had the chance to join a group of workers starting to organize and take a stand, I jumped at the opportunity. I didn't hesitate a second.

Right now, one of my checks goes to my half of the rent, and once I buy groceries and pay my bills, there isn't really anything left to save up. I shouldn't have to barely scrape by. I should be able to start saving some money to go back to school, but I can't.

So what do I have to lose? For me and my colleagues working fast–food jobs across Seattle, the answer is, 'Nothing.' Our backs are firmly against the wall. By joining with my co-workers, I can envision a future in which I earn enough to live, eat and go back to school.

We have been pushed to the edge, and now we are taking a stand, and I could not be more excited, or more hopeful.

Caroline Durocher works at a Taco Bell in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood and is part of Good Jobs Seattle, a campaign by a coalition of groups working to raise fast-food workers' pay.

UPDATE: May 31, 2:53 pm EDT The National Restaurant Association released this statement:

"Recent protests by pockets of workers in a handful of cities are clearly part of an orchestrated organizing campaign, an attempt to target an industry that has not been heavily unionized. Restaurants care about their employees, and the restaurant industry provides opportunities for millions of Americans, women and men from all backgrounds, to move up the ladder and succeed. In addition to providing more than 13 million job opportunities, the industry is one of the best paths to achieving the American dream, with 80 percent of owners and managers having started their careers in entry-level positions.

"It's important to remember that a typical restaurant operates on an average of 3-4 percent pretax profit margin, and more than 90 percent of restaurants are small businesses. Any additional labor cost can negatively impact a restaurant's ability to hire or maintain jobs. Current proposals aimed at increasing the minimum wage to a so-called living wage, in addition to complying with new regulations like the Affordable Care Act, would have a cumulative effect of significantly increasing the cost of doing business and restrict the ability of the industry to create jobs."

Lunchtime Live - The Reality of Working in the Fast Food Industry.M4v

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I understand their feelings I worked Mcdonalds making 7.25 working 30 hours and I was happy to have a job. I was only temporiarly I knew I wasnt going to make it a career. I kept on going working and going to school living apartment paying 200 with a buddy. So if you guys want 15.00 an hour then what about the fields that are getting 15.00 should they ask for an increase in their wages. I know medical assistance, Pharmacy Tech making making 14.00 and they had to take some classes and take the test before they start to work. Besides nobody force you to work at these places and you knew before you started what the salary was going to be. If you are not happy working there go somewhere else or go school and go into a field that will pay you more and stop making your life miserable and others. Think if everyone start to ask for pay increase the companies will increase their prices,
It will be a losing battle for everyone.

August 25 2013 at 1:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A wise old soul told me once,, if you cant manage a little bit of money how do you expect to handle a lot of money,, the problem is the more you make the more you spend on stuff you want and don't need, take care of the needs and your wants have to wait until you can afford them and don't use credit cards

July 29 2013 at 6:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I might miss the meal before eating at near any of these places. KFC, Taco Bell, perhaps. KFC in Asia is like goumet food. All deliver by ordering through four digit code. Nobody expects and are overjoyed when we always give one. Same for house keeping staffs. Thank God, for life.

June 06 2013 at 7:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

now, some cheer and work ethic at Walmart.

June 06 2013 at 6:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Rent and tuitition are a big problem for low wage earners. if you earn slightly more then minimum wage taxes will eat up any gains. You have to be frugle no expensive cellphone and clothes women spend a fortune on clothes make up and handbags you can save thousands a year by not buying these things.Be sure to file your taxes and get any deductions your entitled to..keep your eye open for higher paying jobs

June 02 2013 at 3:05 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

A product or service offered in a given market is worth only what a buyer is willing to pay for it. If I have a car that I want to sell for $10,000, but the highest offer I get is $8,000; then the car is worth $8,000. If am willing to wash a car for $50, but no one will pay me more than $30, then my service is worth $30. In both cases, it is the party that is paying that determines the market value, not the party that is selling.

June 01 2013 at 10:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wizofet's comment

This is why God gave us a conscience & a brain. This is why our past governments gave us moral laws, an actual living-wage minimum-wage in the 1960's (sadly, it isn't that any longer). Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. before then. We decided then as a civilized society that we couldn't & shouldn't put a price on the dignity of a human being. It is the essence of any fair & moral system to do so. Legally guarantee everyones' NEEDS, but not their WANTS. No one willing & able to work deserves less pay than what the cost of human life demands, the 'willingness' of the greedy moneygrubbers to pay be damned.

If we allow such crony-elite-run corporations & other moneyed elites to determine the worth of things like human dignity, then their answer will be: cost of human life (body = 65% oxygen, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen, 3% nitrogen, 1.5% calcium, 1% phosphorous, .35% potassium, .25% sulfur, .15% sodium, .15% chlorine, .05% magnesium, .0004% iron, .00004% iodine, trace quantities of fluorine, silicon, manganese, zinc, copper, aluminum & arsenic & has 14 to 18 square feet of skin for leather). Total worth = $4.50+/- in 2013 US dollars. Is this what all will be reduced to in each other's eyes & estimation? God forbid. Wages haven't went up appreciatively since the early 1970's, yets cost of living continues to rise EVERY year. Just because you aren't feeling the pinch so far, does NOT mean that you won't or that your children or grandchildren won't. Poverty will eventually catch up to all but the uber-elites if this continues. Market capitalism, if left unchecked & unregulated, leads to exactly where we find ourselves today: '08 Crash due to outright fraud & corruption (yet none in jail, hmmm) ... very, very FEW with very, very much; SOME with more than enough; SOME with enough to get by & get ahead; & lastly, MOST with not enough, in debt past their eyeballs, cutting every possible corner & looking for any way out or up, or even worse.

Ask yourself: are there many things that truly need doing daily/weekly/monthly/etc. that aren't ever getting done at all because there's no money to be made at it, no one willing to pay to get it done? YES! Market capitalism isn't God on his throne with an answer to any & all questions. It is only what it is, nothing more. Life in all it's complexities is far, FAR more than just market capitalism. If we overextend the truths & lessons of market capitalism (or anything else) beyond it's own narrow borders & seek to apply those lessons & truths to things outside itself, we are direly mistaken & deceived. You wouldn't use a cake recipe to make a chemical formula for paint remover (let's hope not anyway). Use common sense, never accept the lies, propaganda & twisted priorities of the moneyed-elite corporatists & their fascist fanatic buttbuddies. This is NOT about a crew of restaurant workers making more or asking to make more ... as time goes on, it's about nearly all of us making less & less as long as we allow it.

June 02 2013 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Here is what it is like money wise to live where I live. 1 bedroom apartments range anywhere from 499.00 to over 1000.00 ( and anything below 700.00 is either in a really bad neighborhood or is falling apart), the lowest power bill I have ever seen since moving here was 300.00 (and that is with turning the lights off in every room when you leave and not using lights during the day), the lowest water bill I have seen was 100.00( and that was with only washing work clothes during the week), my car insurance is 110.00 (with a clean driving record), and my phone is 50.00 ( it is prepaid). Now that is not even including car payments if you have them, gas to drive the car, groceries, if you have children daycare expenses, medical bills, and other basic necessities (shampoo, soap, laundry soap, dish soap, deodorant, toothpaste, tooth brushes, mouth wash, etc.) if you lived in the cheapest apartment you'd have to make 1,059.00 after taxes( again this is only accounting for rent, power, water, car insurance and phone). If she is working 27 hours consistently at 9.19 an hour BEFORE taxes she would only make 992.52. Not enough just for bills.
Now if her employer is anything like employers here she can be fired just for applying at other jobs, not to mention the fact that I know several people who have been applying at jobs for over a year ( they have college degrees) and have found nothing but fast food jobs.
The other thing that people seem to forget is that those of us who work or have worked in the fast food industry do not receive health insurance from our employers or if we do it doesn't even cover the bare minimum ( vision/dental) and God forbid there are any special circumstances where you need medications.
We also do not receive help to better our education ( for those who do not already have college degrees).
Now yes some of these people could in theory join the military and receive far better pay and health insurance and have their education be paid for but for those with children and no family or support system, what happens to the children? Sadly the truth is that the military is not for everyone and it would not solve all of our problems. The cost of living is unfortunately too high and the wages do not match the increase of the cost of living.
Oh and for those of you who think that fast food is unskilled labor, we are required to know the correct temperature of all our equipment, the correct temperature for all of the food when it is done being cooked, proper holding times for different ingredients, and proper procedures for each station we work in and everything that we come into contact with in that station. We are quizzed on this information constantly. If you think that it is easy I encourage you to try it for a week, have customers yell at you and throw things at you because they wanted a bigger ice cream cone even though they paid 1.07 and you have to do it with a smile and tell them to have a nice day.

June 01 2013 at 5:27 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to chyowens's comment

Regarding joining the military, recruiting is nowhere near what it was even 5 years ago, and that is less than the prior five years before that. The military wants YOUNG people, with no visible tatoos, no gang affiliation, clean/minor criminal record, no subsrance abuse, and pretty good reading/communication skills. While I don't know for sure, I suspect anyone 26 or older would need to bring some "skills" to offset their age, (mechanic, pilot, teacher/trainer, college, etc.). And you must be in pretty good health as well. And then there is the question of whether a prospect WANTS to be in the military.

Just look back to the 19th century... the "kids" these days are probably too young to have heard of things like "I owe my soul to the company store", much less know anyone that actually worked that way, (prior to now). Even office workers had to bring a bucket of coal to heat the office where they worked.
I am not even old enough to retire yet, but I grew up in a city, father had a college degreed science job, and my family had a party line telephone, (for the youngsters, a party line was a line shared with other homes, as many as 16!). Is there a teenager without a cellphone these days?

I had a "bridge job" in a big-box home store, and they had training and tests for various jobs/advancement, but they seldom made sure the person being tested took the test alone in a room, and some tests included products that hadn't been sold in 5 year, (i.e. same tests for longer than that). That company/store kept a person with SIX "class A" write-ups (each one a firing offense), until they wanted to 'remove' him, then fire him "for cause", (i.e. no unemployment payments).

Many/most of the laws with fixed dollar amounts in them were written around the time US currency switched to FEDERAL RESERVE NOTES from SILVER CERTIFICATES. Try doing the inflation since then, (when a "decent" NEW car cost around $500).

June 03 2013 at 5:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to M's comment

In regards to the military portion of my rant, I only brought it up because I had several people say that us fast food employees would never make it in the military ( I am as confused as you are as to how that was relevant to the particular subject). That being said I am in no way saying that times haven't been harder, I am saying that money no longer goes as far at it use to.

I was a person who "owed my soul" to my job, I have been working since I was 15 and before this year, have only taken time off for medical reasons I am 26. That entire time I worked for McDonald's and before they started making employee's sign non-compete agreements ( they get to choose who the "competitors" are) I had second jobs when money got really tough.

I did my first apartment on 7 dollars an hour, but I was not healthy as I could not afford nutritious food.

June 03 2013 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

thusspakelebeau---Your comments are one of the very few on here which are not just plain ignorant, or consumed with jealousy. You are correct that the system is rigged for the elite and they are taking all the wealth, yet people are blaming the poor workers who simply cannot survive on pocket change wages.
Commenters-- stop with the jealousy and educate yourselves. There is plenty of wealth in our country--it is just all being taken by a very few people at the top. Why would you want your kids to inherit a country like that???

June 01 2013 at 1:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

People who are freaking out about the $15 need to calm down and think a moment about how far $15 will take you these days - it won't even buy half a tank of gas. Back in 1985 when I was making $7.50/hr at a print shop I could fill up my car's tank and then some with one hour's pay. Expecting to be fairly compensated in line with today's cost of living is not a sense of "entitlement", it's a sense of fairness.

June 01 2013 at 12:36 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to whatsleft's comment

I am a little in love with you for this statement.

June 01 2013 at 9:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Here is a "blast from the past":
I am not old enough to retire yet, and I personally bought gas for $0.199 per gallon, yes not quite 20 cents! I also sold hamburgers for $0.10, cheeseburgers for $0.12. at a major burger chain for my first job.

Sometimes the late night TV shows the comedy "Three's Company", and do you rember how the three roommates struggled to pay $300/month for a 2-bedroom apartment (just a few blocks from the beach) in California?
Imagine how happy they would have been with "today's wages" back then. Unfortunately, we live in the times when the government is quite literally both printing money, and "the Fed" is 'injecting money into the economy'.

June 03 2013 at 5:39 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The sad part of this whole situation in which a young lady believes she deserves to be paid more is the socialist thinking that's involved. The administration has been pandering to people who are more than willing to believe they are entitled to the benefits achieved by hardworking, bootstrapping Americans just because they deserve it. Those who are making more money than this young lady have done so by dint of effort: working double jobs, saving money, re-investing in their own future. The administration has gotten people to believe they don't have to work hard, make good judgements, in order to achieve. All they need to do is elect these officials who will hand things out to them. The fact this young lady is so open about her quandaries belies the fact she fully believes she is entitled to a better situation just because she wants it, not because she works for it. These people are waking up to the hard reality you can't ride on the coattails of others when it's up to you to help yourself.

June 01 2013 at 11:31 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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