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St. Louis Fast Food Workers Join The Global Strike For $15 An Hour

Striking fast food workers in south St. Louis, MO.
Jess Jiang
St. Louis Public Radio

Fast food workers around the globe and in St. Louis went on strike Thursday. Workers, wearing black T-shirts that say "Show Me $15," rallied in front of a Wendy's in south St. Louis. The workers are asking for $15 an hour, about double what many workers currently receive. 

Marchelle Washington, 23, walked off her cash register job at Wendy's. In her six years of working in fast food, she said she hasn't seen a huge pay increase. She said her cashier job doesn't cover her expenses, so she's had to work as a beautician to supplement her paycheck. Washington explained a pay raise would let her afford health care, food, rent, bus fare, and a pair shoes from time to time.

But, when asked, she said she wasn't sure why the global movement was specifically asking for $15 an hour. Washington just said that fast food workers deserved higher wages.

Marquiss Lambert also walked out of his job at Wendy's. He's worked behind the grill for years. But now that he has two toddlers and another baby on the way, the $7.75 an hour he makes isn't enough. There's food, shoes, and toys to buy, he said. And rent for the whole family. Lambert admitted he never calculated a budget to see what kind of pay he would need to raise his growing family. He said he didn't know why the rallying cry was for $15.

Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, unlocked the mystery of why $15 an hour is the magic number. 

She explained, in 2012, striking workers in New York City sat down to figure out the pay they needed to live. Henry said the New York workers looked at the cost of housing, food, heat or air conditioning, clothing, and expenses related to caring for children. 

But according to the most recent government reporton cost of living in different U.S. cities, $15 goes a lot further in St. Louis than it would in New York. Rent, for instance, costs 40 percent less in St. Louis than New York City.

Henry admitted that, ultimately, one number might not make sense for workers in different cities across the country.

"The $15 demand is what has united people in believing they deserve better. So I would think of it as a symbol." Henry hopes that workers will have an organized voice and rally behind the symbol. Then the workers can choose to negotiate for pay raises based on city and cost of living. 

Henry said she didn't think raising workers' income would necessarily lead to fewer jobs nor would it lead to restaurants replacing people with computers. Henry said the number of fast-food jobs is growing. And she wants to make sure all those new jobs will afford workers more than just the basics. She said she wants workers to also afford at least community college education, so they can get ahead.