Is the fast-food business model creaking under the weight of new wage protests? “Living-wage” advocates hope so after today's global demonstrations in support of better pay and workers' rights, billed as the biggest fast food strike ever.
On Thursday, labor and union activists and Occupy Wall Street alumni, as well as thousands of fast-food workers who walked off their jobs, came together to protest at least 17 major QSR chains in some 30 countries, calling for wages of $15 an hour as well as a right to form a union, organized by a group calling themselves Fast Food Forward.
The movement, which has its roots in the US where one-day protests have occured in over 150 cities for the last 18 months, stalled sales at fast-food outlets around the world as protesters demonstrated in front of restaurants, on sidewalks and inside malls, some even donning Ronald McDonald costumes.
Activists in New Zealand waved banners in Auckland, while in the Philippines, young protesters staged a flash mob inside a McDonald's store during the morning rush. Protests took place in Seoul, Dublin, Venice and Panama City, as well. “It’s a global economy, so they’re saying, ‘Why not go overseas to make it into a global fight?’” Lowell Turner, a professor of international labor relations at Cornell University, told the New York Times.
The organizing group behind the efforts—Fast Food Forward—is financially backed by the 2 million-member strong Service Employees International Union. And while the protests seem to only be adding to the grass-roots movement over equal pay, especially in the United States, following the Occupy movement as well as political "income equality" trends, not everyone is standing behind it.
"These union-produced, made-for-media protests have repeatedly failed to gain support from more than a handful of actual workers," Glenn Spencer, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president, said in a statement, according to USA Today. "At some point, unions need this activity to translate into new members to justify the millions of dollars they are pouring into these campaigns."
Of course, advocates have turned that argument inside out by citing the costs to the US taxpayer for public assistance to underpaid fast-food workers—a figure cited by the University of California-Berkeley at $7 billion a year.
Perhaps more concerning for fast-food chains is that the now global wage movement is hitting them in one of the only places they were succeeding. With months of US sales declines weighing it down, McDonald's, for one, has been relying on international growth and stability to sustain the brand while it tries to fix its problems at home.
And in a time where the QSR industry is facing enormous pressure from fast-casual, better-for-you chains, you can bet they're not taking the international protests lightly.
Follow Dale Buss on Twitter: @daledbuss