Friday, September 12, 2014

Fast Food Workers Block Oakland Street, Demand Higher Wages

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

OAKLAND -- At the risk of irritating his employer or worse, Burger King manager John Jones left his restaurant Thursday Sept. 4 and joined a group of protesters on Broadway demanding $15 an hour and a union. 

"It's a real risk for me because I have kids to feed, but I'm also not afraid to speak the truth," said Jones, who noted the nationwide movement to unionize is hampered by workers scared to speak out. 

He watched as 14 fast-food workers and their supporters in front of the Burger King where he works were arrested by Oakland police for blocking a roadway and refusing orders to move. About 100 people blocked Broadway at noon between 12th and 14th streets. 

"The majority of my co-workers don't speak English well, and the idea of walking off the job is not financially feasible," Jones said. "We're parents who are very dependent on this money." 

Before the arrests, protesters chanted, "Hold the mayo, hold the fries, make our wages supersized." 

The protesters and those arrested were part of an initial group of about 100 who gathered at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall and then went to the Burger King restaurant at 13th and Broadway. 

They apparently hoped to meet with management representatives at Burger King, but the restaurant closed down. After that, they returned to the plaza, and the streets were reopened to traffic. 

Similar protests were underway across the country, with organizers hoping for walkouts in up to 100 cities. Some arrests were reported in New York. The national movement is backed by the powerful Service Employees International Union, which represents 1.9 million workers, including janitors, home health care aides and city employees. 

The movement to unionize, which started in New York in 2012, got some traction last month when the National Labor Relations Board said McDonald's could be named as a joint employer in charges filed on behalf of workers over unfair labor practices. 

That move will force McDonald's corporate brass to sit down with workers and their organizers instead of passing the responsibility to franchisees, union members said Thursday. 

McDonald's and "other industry players have tried to sidestep workers' calls, inventing a make-believe world in which responsibility for wages and working conditions falls only on the shoulders of franchisees, not the corporations that control how food is served and priced," said an SEIU California statement announcing the Oakland action. 

At the same time, a bill in the California Legislature could soon give franchisees a leg up on corporate restaurant chains by enacting stricter rules on when companies can decide to terminate their agreements. 

"The idea is that workers need to be organized because they face abuses, wage violations and health and safety violations," said Gary Jimenez, East Bay vice president of SEIU Local 1021, who was on Broadway with workers and protesters Thursday. "They haven't been able to because of corporate aggression and pushback." 

The desire to unionize fast-food workers is simple, Pamela Hall, Oakland secretary of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, told the lunchtime crowd. 

"We need to unionize and earn $15 an hour," she said. We need to be able to afford rent in the Bay Area." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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