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St. Louis Fast Food Workers Testify On The Public Cost Of Low Wages

St. Louis leaders, advocates and fast-food workers met today at City Hall to discuss how low wages impact fast-food workers and taxpayers.

The hearing was organized by Jobs with Justice’s Workers’ Rights Board and featured testimony from workers about the realities of living with low wages. Several of them spoke about how, despite their work, they still rely on government programs to get by.

The hearing followed a recent report from the University of California-Berkley that said over half of the nation’s fast food workers use some form of public assistance.  That public assistance costs Missourians nearly $150 million in taxes each year.

“We need to use our tax dollars in a better way than paying for McDonald's low wages,” Rev. Martin Rafanan, co-chairman of the Missouri Jobs with Justice Workers’ Rights Board said. “We could be using our tax dollars to improve our schools or to improve our roads.”

State Representative Karla May said that in order for conditions to improve, legislators need to hold fast food corporations responsible for paying their workers a living wage. 

“Basically, I think the problem lies with the legislative body,” May said. “We need to change the way we do things.”

Beyond legislative action, Rafanan said fast-food workers are building power to negotiate higher wages and the ability to unionize without retaliation.

“If they are successful in their work nationally, they will essentially be putting pressure on corporations nationally to increase wages,” Rafanan said. “Those increases in wages would then be reflected, we believe, in a stronger economy locally in our communities.”

The STL Can’t Survive on 7.35 Campaign has been protesting low wages for fast food workers since May. 

Follow Kate Essig on Twitter: @Kate Essig