NEW YORK (CBSMiami) — “What do we want? A raise! When do we want it? Now!”
The chants went up Thursday outside a Miami McDonald’s and a nearby Wendy’s as demonstrators demanded an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Among those shouting and waving placards was Wendy’s employee Oscar Rivera, who joined a nationwide one day “strike” called to protest low pay. Rivera is a Miami Dade College student and the son of a low-income mother.
“I would like to tell her, ‘Mom, don’t worry. I would like to pay the rent, the light, the water bills, don’t worry.’ But I can’t,” Rivera said.
Selmira Wilson said she works two jobs, at McDonald’s by day and cleaning offices by night. She receives no health or other benefits for herself or her three children.
Many of those at the event were not minimum wage employees but union organizers and community activists who say raising the minimum wage is a community issue.
“They can’t afford to pay for their kids’ shoes, for their kids’ education,” said Deborah Dion of the activist group, South Florida Voices for Working Families.
Protests like the one in Miami were held outside fast food restaurants in more than a hundred cities across the nation. As loud as the voices are, they aren’t being heard where it counts: Washington, DC.
With President Obama’s condemnation, congressional Republicans have blocked even a moderate minimum wage hike – arguing it would raise prices and cost jobs. Some economists call that a flawed argument.
Dr. Ali Bustamante, a labor economist at Florida International University told CBS4 News Thursday that data shows that since the minimum wage began – in 1938 at 25 cents an hour – every increase has brought positive economic results.
“Whenever we increase the minimum wage marginally, it’s actually beneficial to our economy. It actually tends to create employment,” Bustamante said. “It tends to create economic growth.” Bustamante said it would be difficult to speculate on how the $15 per hour wage being demanded by some might impact the economy because “we’ve never doubled the minimum wage before.” Previous boosts in the minimum wage have been in the $2 range. The federal minimum wage was last increased – five years ago – to $7.25 an hour. Florida is one of only a few states that require more – $7.93 an hour. It happened because of a statewide vote of the people.
Bustamante said that in right to work (employees can’t be required to join a union), more politically conservative states like Florida, referenda are probably the more effective way to achieve increases in minimum pay. Politicians, he said, aren’t anxious to take up the payroll banner but the people, when asked, tend to say yes.
McDonald’s Thursday said it follows good business practices in paying and promoting its employees. In a written statement, the company also said employees who participated in the Thursday strike would not face dismissal.
“McDonald’s respects our employees’ right to voice their opinions and to protest peacefully,” the company said. “They are welcomed back.”
Wendy’s issued a statement saying it’s “proud to give thousands of people the opportunity to develop skills so they can grow with us or move on.”
One Wendy’s worker protested on her own time in Miami Thursday, wanting to make sure she didn’t jeopardize her jobs – at two Wendy’s. She works 28 hours a week at each to support herself and family. She said it is not enough. Because she is not a full time employee, she gets no benefits.
The woman, whose first name is Rebecca, said she has little hope of seeing the minimum wage increased to $15 an hour, but hopes some help comes her way.
“We’ll take whatever we can get. We need it,” she said.