Sanders Congratulates Fast-Food Workers Fighting to Raise Starvation Wages

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today congratulated thousands of fast-food workers who have staged one-day strikes to demand higher wages.

“I rise today to congratulate hundreds and hundreds of young people throughout the country who are standing up for justice, who are putting a spotlight on one of the major economic crises facing this country,” Sanders said in a Senate floor speech. None of the 200,000 fast-food restaurants across the country are unionized.

On Wednesday alone workers in St. Louis, Kansas City and Detroit picketed McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s and Long John Silver’s restaurants as part of a campaign to double their hourly wages to $15 an hour. There also have been demonstrations in New York, N.Y., Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“What they are saying is workers cannot make it on $7.25 an hour, $7.50 an hour. Often they are unable to get 40 hours of work and in most cases they get no or very limited benefits,” Sanders added. “What they are saying is we need to raise the minimum wage in this country.”

Sanders is a cosponsor of legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from the $7.25 figure in place since 2009. He disputed the “bogus argument” that raising the minimum wage results in fewer jobs. Vermont, Sanders said, has the third-highest minimum wage in the country at $8.60 an hour and only 4.4 percent unemployment, the fourth lowest jobless rate in the United States.

During a trip earlier this summer to Detroit, Sanders met with young people struggling to find work. “One young man I talked to is working at three separate locations to cobble together what in fact is less than a livable income,” Sanders said. “We have got to stand with them. We have got to raise the minimum wage in this country,” Sanders said.

While fast-food chains pay what Sanders called “starvation wages,” he noted the exorbitant compensation for top executives at the same firms. The Burger King CEO, Bernardo Hees, just got a 61 percent pay raise boosting his total yearly compensation to $6.5 million. Last year, McDonald’s tripled the compensation of CEO Don Thompson to $13.8 million. David Novak, the boss at Yum Brands, the owners of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken received more than $44 million in stock options last year alone.

“If the company has enough money to give this gentleman $44 million in stock options then maybe we can end starvation wages at Yum Foods,” Sanders said. “If Mr. Thompson can make $13.8 million as the head of McDonald's, surely the workers at McDonald's can make at least $10 an hour.”

While the economy is slowly recovering from a terrible recession, real unemployment in the United States last month was 14.3 percent when the Labor Department factors in workers forced into part-time jobs and those who gave up looking for work.

About two-thirds of the jobs lost during the Wall Street-caused recession were middle-class jobs that paid up to $21 an hour. While employers have begun to hire again, nearly two-thirds of all the new jobs created since 2009 are low-wage jobs that pay less than $13.80 an hour.

Today, Sanders added, middle-class families have seen their incomes go down by nearly $5,000 since 1999 after adjusting for inflation.