Restaurant Workers Rally for Higher Wages

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  On the 50th anniversary of the sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee, people in 22 states are protesting in solidarity, including a group of Iowans.

“We are fighting for a minimum wage of $15 and a union because working families are struggling. The fast food industry is sitting on a pile of money and they are refusing to share any of that wealth that has been created by the productivity of their workers,” said Cherie Mortice, board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

Fast food workers and allies joined together at the McDonald’s on University Avenue to fight for what they believe in, but they understand this is not a well-received topic.

“Nobody likes change. And when you start talking big numbers, it’s not really a big number. Fifteen dollars, it gets you a little bit above poverty. People are living in poverty that are working 40 hours a week off minimum wage. What kind of a life is that?” McDonald’s worker Sonya Sayers said.

Several protesters say the current minimum wage of $7.25, the same as the federal minimum wage, is not enough and they are living in poverty.

“People have to choose between paying rent or putting food on their kids' tables. People have to choose between their meds that will keep them healthy to continue working or food or rent, and right now people have to make very tough decisions,” said Wesley United Methodist Church Pastor Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz.

The Iowa Restaurant Association said starting wages are often a lot higher than the minimum.

“We’re looking at starting wages, even in quick service restaurants in Des Moines, that are at least $10 or $11 an hour. So we feel like we are really trying to be aggressive with wages to find and keep great employees,” Iowa Restaurant Association President and CEO Jessica Dunker said.

Dunker added that $15 is a reasonable wage, but not necessarily for entry-level workers.

“So since we are the industry that employs one in three people in their first jobs, one in two people have worked in the restaurant industry, we need the flexibility to have an entry level wage that’s different than a professional, living, working wage,” Dunker said.

Mortice said at the end of the day, they just want respect and think their demands are a step in the right direction.

“All work has dignity," she said. "You can’t tell me that somebody that comes in and works behind a counter or works over a frying apparatus isn’t working hard. We dehumanize work in order to perpetrate downward pressure on poor people and working class people."