Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Waging a Struggle Fast-Food Workers Risk Their Jobs in Fight over Higher Pay, More Benefits

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Waging a Struggle Fast-Food Workers Risk Their Jobs in Fight over Higher Pay, More Benefits

Article excerpt

Frederick Connor was scheduled to work a shift at the Wendy's restaurant on Butler Street in Lawrenceville on Thursday, but instead of his uniform he donned a black T-shirt that read "Fight for $15" and headed off to a protest.

Fast-food workers backed by activist groups and the Service Employees International Union in 150 cities nationwide staged a strike that day to protest low wages in their jobs.

Mr. Connor, 44, of Lawrenceville works a full-time job doing just about anything that needs to be done at Wendy's, but he was willing to risk that job to get a pay raise and the return of a benefit - one week of vacation.

"It used to be that if we worked for a year, you would get a week," he said. "Now we don't get that."

The drive to bring fast-food workers' wages up to $15 an hour dovetails with the call from Democrats - most notably President Barack Obama - to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Mr. Obama has already signed an executive order that workers on federal contracts will earn at least that.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 for all workers covered under the Fair Labor and Standards Act. Pennsylvania's rate is the same, although some states and municipalities have increased their minimum wages.

When Mr. Connor started working at Wendy's five years ago, he earned $7.35 an hour and now he's up to $8.25. Support for his children, who live out of state, is taken directly from his paycheck. His wife is diabetic and receives a monthly disability check from Social Security and health insurance through Medicaid. Mr. Connor does not have health insurance.

"We struggle to pay our bills," he said.

He is not alone.

A 2013 study by the Washington, D.C., research group Economic Policy Institute showed that increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over a three-year period would raise the wages of 30 million people, 855,000 of them in Pennsylvania. The institute estimated increased spending by those people would add about 140,000 new jobs to the national economy, 5,000 in Pennsylvania.

One issue driving the debate is the fact that the inflation adjusted wage has fallen below the poverty level for a family of two. …

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