Thousands march for better pay, working environment

People lined the streets of Nashville to ask for a minimum wage increase for workers  photos by Justin Darden

People lined the streets of Nashville to ask for a minimum wage increase for workers
photos by Justin Darden

Hundreds of people came together earlier this month in over 100 cities nationwide in support of better pay and better working conditions for fast food employees as they marked December 5 as a day of protest. The protesters, many of whom are employees of fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King, walked off their jobs to come together in protest of better working conditions and an increase in the minimum wage. The protests were held in major cities, including Chicago, Boston and New York City. In Tennessee, the protests were held in cities such as Memphis and Nashville. Protests in Nashville were at McDonald’s Restaurant on Broadway and continued at Centennial Park and ended at the McDonald’s on West End. According to the protesters, they are struggling to make ends meet with their current salary of $7.25/hr. and are looking for an increase in the minimum wage. They are also looking for changes in the working environment at these fast food locations.

Mike Actis-Grande, field director for Tennessee Citizen Action, said that participating in the protests shows that TNCA and other organizations are in full support of what the fast food restaurant employees are doing and there are people in the state that support them. The protesters main points were to demonstrate to everyone that there are people who are not able to make ends meet on $7.25/hr. and support their families. Actis-Grande also said being in favor of the minimum wage increase benefits Tennessee financially. Instead of the money going to out of state corporations, it stays here.

“We’ve always been a pro-labor group fighting for the right to organize,” said Actis-Grande.
Tennessee has typically not always been sympathetic to organized labor.

“So it was important for us to show, at least in Nashville, the local people stand with its fast food workers,” he said, “that we don’t tolerate low wages, that we’re on their side and that this is good for all Tennesseans.”

Gail Seavey, board member of Jobs for Justice and minister of the First Unitarian Church in Nashville, said she decided to get involved with the protest because the economy in Nashville has been dependant on service workers but they were not being paid enough to support themselves or their families. She said that raising the minimum wage would help the local economy get better and get consumers to spend more money. She also said that low-wage jobs have increased since the recession after the mid-wage jobs were lost. “The overall goal for them was to get a livable, decent wage,” said Seavey. “The fast food workers are asking for a living wage.”

The reaction to the protests was very positive, according to organizers. Brenda Perez, organizer of Workers for Dignity, said that the people were supportive of the protesters and that she hopes there will be changes to the minimum wage and the working conditions at these fast food restaurants. Kate Sheets, organizer with SEIU, said that the feedback she received was good and that the protests had gotten a lot of support from the community. She also said there are plans to do more protests in the future.