Monique Jamison, 32, works full time at Raising Cane’s and has worked in fast food restaurants for most of her life. During this time, she struggled to support her son, often lived without stable housing, and worked for wages that barely covered her bus pass and electric bill.
“Sometimes it was like, okay take care of my son or take care of the bills,” Jamison said. “Feed me and my son, or pay for electricity [bill]. I preferred to feed my son, so… I had to sit there and be homeless and stay in someone else’s house.
And during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jamison said conditions in the fast food industry deteriorated.
“We’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off,” she said.
The kitchens are understaffed to the point that restaurants are offering increasingly higher hiring and referral bonuses in order to be able to open, according to workers. Jamison says she’s sweating in her mask in the 90-degree kitchen as the temperature outside rises.
Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage has remained at $ 7.25 an hour since 2009. So Jamison, along with other St. Louis area fast food workers, is organizing with Show Me 15 – the Missouri branch of the Fight for 15 campaign – and strike.
“Giving bonuses doesn’t change anything. Trying to get your workers to recommend people so they can get bonuses for recruiting more workers… they only do it because nobody wants to work, ”Jamison said.
She said her restaurant offered referral bonuses of $ 200 if workers found more people to hire. Signs offering similar bonuses are all over the state, alongside indicators of worker dissatisfaction, such as at a temporarily closed Jack in the Box in Arnold, MO, a sign on the door reads “Sorry for the inconvenience.” But I’m currently short-staffed and the crew members I have are rebelling against me because the new hires I’ve hired have made more money than them.
On Tuesday, fast food workers in St. Louis joined those in Asheville, North Carolina, Charlotte and Charleston in South Carolina, Detroit, Durham, Flint, Houston and Milwaukee to strike for a minimum wage of $ 15 and a union.
In St. Louis, protesters rallied on Lindell Boulevard, shutting down a McDonald’s drive-thru for 30 minutes during lunchtime as workers shouted directly into the drive-thru speakers “We want to our money! ”
Members of SEIU Local 1 were in attendance alongside other members of Fight for $ 15, Jobs with Justice and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
“Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, it’s fast food, it’s nothing’ – well, it’s something for us,” Jamison said. “I am not being paid properly for the work and effort I put in. ”
Francis Holmes, 58, spoke at the rally. She has been working in fast food since the age of 13.
“When I started to work, the [Missouri] the minimum wage was $ 3.55. It’s only gone down to $ 10.30 now. So you calculate how much money they haven’t given us in the last 40 years, ”Homes said.
The state’s current minimum wage was increased to $ 10.30 an hour this year, following the passage of Proposition B. Despite this, it is estimated that a person with a child in the St. Louis area is expected to earn $ 29.81 an hour, or nearly three times the current minimum wage hourly wage.
During the pandemic, Holmes said, she lived with her granddaughter and feared bringing home a fatal disease from the bus or from work.
“But I still worked during the pandemic because if I didn’t we wouldn’t have a place to live,” Holmes said.
After the morning strike in the drive-thru, a group of workers who had attended the previous strike organized their own walkout at Krab Kingz in the Loop.
Nicole Rush, deputy director of Krab Kingz, said the pay there was also low.
“We have no advantage. … We don’t have sick leave, we don’t have paid leave. The kitchen is so hot… we don’t have air in the kitchen, ”said Rush.
Krab Kingz workers have never staged a walkout or strike before, but working with organizers across the country and other fast food restaurants prompted them to give it a try.
“We need to get more respect,” Rush said. “Right now, when we try to talk to them and tell them what’s going on, they just reject us, like we don’t matter. ”
She said her colleagues were urging her to return to work, although she had already considered quitting. “We’re going to go out and close the whole store.” And that’s what they did: The store closed when all but one of the employees left at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Potential customers, seeing a sign reading “WORKERS CLOSED ON STRIKE FOR BETTER WAGES, BENEFITS AND RESPECT AT WORK” on Krab Kingz’s door, turned and left.