Employees of a variety of fast food outlets in Madison will be going on strike Thursday to protest low pay, according to Wisconsin Jobs Now, a union-backed workers rights group based in Milwaukee.
The organization claims workers at McDonald's, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts and Taco Bell will be walking off the job as part of a national campaign to raise wages for fast food workers, who typically are poorly paid and receive little to no benefits.
Fast food employees have walked out in a number of high-profile demonstrations around the country, beginning earlier this year in New York City and later spreading to other cities, including Milwaukee.
Wisconsin Jobs Now put me in touch with Meghan Ford, a 22-year-old employee of Dunkin' Donuts on South Park St., who is scheduled to work the morning shift Thursday but will instead be picketing in front of the shop with two of her coworkers. She says the majority of her coworkers declined to participate, fearing retaliation from management.
Ford says the immediate goal is not necessarily the formation of a union. Right now, she says, she wants management to see that workers have grievances that they want to discuss.
"I'm hoping I'll be seen more not just as an employee but somebody who should be listened to," she says. "The relationship between management and the worker is structured so that the worker is going to be a little timid. I hope that managers understand that situation, that I'm stepping up right now, and that I have a voice and an opinion."
Ford currently makes $8.25 an hour at Dunkin' Donuts, and says that raises are few and far between. One of her coworkers told her that after a year on the job she could get a 25-cent raise.
Equally frustrating, she says, is that employees are not able to keep the money that customers put in what looks very much like a tip jar on the counter. Instead, management collects the money and buys small prizes, such as gift cards, to distribute to well-performing employees.
Ford does not fit the profile of a lifelong fast food worker. She recently graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in political science and sociology and has been active in progressive politics, including the Green Party, for several years. Madison's activist tradition is part of why the Appleton native chose to attend college here.
She says she recognizes that her coworkers, some of whom have fewer career opportunities as well as families to feed, face a much greater risk in walking off the job than she does.
"At first I felt guilty because if I get fired from this job, I don't have children and they have people to look out for," she says. "But then I was thinking, that's the perfect reason for me to do this. It would be the best for me to get hit (rather than somebody else)."
A person who identified herself as a shift leader at Dunkin' Donuts said Wednesday she was aware of the strike taking place but declined to comment. She also said the manager was not available.
The protest at Dunkin' Donuts will take place at 6 a.m. at 801 S. Park St. Later in the day, at 4:30 p.m., the workers and their supporters will hold a rally on the State Street side of Library Mall. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, along with Mayor Paul Soglin and the Rev. Ellen Rasmussen will speak in support of the cause.