May 15 was a historic day for Milwaukee. Workers, emboldened by strikes at Walmart and fast food and retail worker strikes in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit, took to the streets and went on strike themselves. They were fighting for $15 and the right to form a union without intimidation or retaliation – and they caused a stir. Hundreds of workers from dozens of stores – hitting major national chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Simply Fashion and Taco Bell – marked the fifth city hit by low-wage worker strikes in as many weeks.
The Milwaukee strike comes amid growing concern from economists and other experts that the proliferation of low-wage work is hampering the nation’s recovery. In a speech last month, Federal Reserve Board Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin suggested the types of jobs being created are slowing the recovery. “Those jobs will directly affect the fortunes and challenges of households and neighborhoods as well as the course of the recovery,” she said.
In metro Milwaukee, roughly 100,000 family-sustaining manufacturing jobs have been lost since the early 1980s, forcing workers to rely on low-paying jobs in fast food and retail. Growth in food preparation jobs in the metro area is projected to be nearly triple the rate of overall employment and retail is one of the fast growing job sectors in the metro area.
Fast food is a $200 billion a year industry and retail is a $4.7 trillion industry, yet many Milwaukee service workers earn minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, or just above it and are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get healthcare for their children. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single adult in Milwaukee with one child needs to earn nearly $21 an hour to get by – a far cry from the minimum wage.
The Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee’s campaign, Raise Up MKE, seeks to put money back in the pockets of the more than 60,000 men and women who work hard in the Milwaukee-area’s fast food and retail chains but still can’t afford basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent. These workers are coming together to fight for $15 per hour and the right to form a union so they can support their families and put money back into the economy.
Join with the workers. Support better lives, and a better Milwaukee today!