Flipping burgers at McDonald’s is the iconic dead-end job of the U.S. service economy with low-wages, few benefits and certainly no labor unions. But now a national movement of fast-food and other low-paid workers is growing and organizing to improve working conditions. In the past two years there have been seven national fast-food strikes, which reflect a broader resurgence in the U.S. labor movement and new forms of social mobilization from Occupy Wall Street to the Walmart Black Friday strikes. These recent protests have mobilized often marginalized communities in ways that question the service economy model based on cheap non-unionized labor.
Service work, and fast-food in particular, is a growing sector of employment that is indicative of larger trends in the U.S. economy towards contingent, temporary employment and low wages. Violations of workplace laws like mandatory overtime and minimum wage are part of corporate cost-cutting and common in low-wage industries, and unionization could help give workers power to resist these practices.
- Annette Bernhardt, Michael W. Spiller, and Diana Polson. 2013. “All Work and No Pay: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City.” Social Forces 91(3):725–46.
This revitalized labor movement is also mobilizing women, people of color and immigrants who were largely left out of the traditional craft and industrial unions.
- Ruth Milkman. 2006. L.A. Story : Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Broader decline of unionization and decrease in the minimum wage has contributed to rising income inequality, and so attempts to organize low-wage workers could help all U.S. workers and reduce this inequality. Union membership provides a wage boost for workers, especially women, people of color and those with less education.
- Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld. 2011. “Unions, Norms, and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality.” American Sociological Review 76(4):513–37.
- Jake Rosenfeld and Meredith Kleykamp. 2012. “Organized Labor and Racial Wage Inequality in the United States.” American Journal of Sociology 117(5):1460–1502.
For more on the inclusive power of unions, check out this Girl w/Pen! post.