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Church Told to Show Caution Before Jumping In to Fast Food Workers' Strike

Fast Food Workers Demanding $15 an Hour in Strikes on Thursday

Church Told to Show Caution Before Jumping In to Fast Food Workers' Strike

Fast food workers from more than 50 cities across the U.S. walked out of their jobs Thursday, demanding the U.S. raise the federal wage limit in the service sector to $15 an hour. This is the second fast-food worker strike to take place in two months.

The workers gathered in major cities such as Detroit, New York, and Chicago on Thursday to participate in the marches, some of which included hundreds of workers flooding their local McDonald's, Taco Bell, or Wendy's to demand higher pay. Other workers are choosing to picket in front of restaurants such as Burger King and KFC during peak lunch hours to have their voices heard.

Although the Presbyterian Church and several independent religious groups are supporting Thursday's nationwide protests, others in the religious community have urged church leaders to tread lightly around issues concerning the American restaurant industry, warning that the "devil is in the details" when it comes to issues of social justice. An Op-Ed for The Institute on Religion & Democracy's blog, Juicy Ecumenism, argues that the prospect of fighting for a social injustice, such as an unlivable minimum wage, seems like an easy cause for the Presbyterian Church to support, but in reality the issue is far more complicated and intricate than it first appears.

"Promoting social righteousness is, in theory, fairly simple in principle. It means that a constituent part of the church's mission is to critique those parts of our societal structures that are unrighteous, and to advance to the culture a positive vision of fairness and justice," Juicy Ecumenism writes. "As always, the devil is in the details."

The blog offers the example of Gradye Parsons, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church, who recently spoke out to encourage Wendy's to join the Fair Food Program, an initiative that seeks to increase the wage of workers in tomato fields in Florida by setting a price premium for corporate purchasers.

Juicy Ecumenism argues that all of Wendy's tomato farmers are members of the Fair Food Program, and Wendy's works as a separate business entity from these farmers; therefore, because Wendy's "does not directly employ the workers [...] it is not appropriate that Wendy's be asked to pay a premium to cover the cost of salary stabilization for these workers [...] it is the farmers rather than Wendy's who ought to be subject Gradye's ire," the Op-Ed adds. 

Currently, the U.S. minimum wage rate is at $7.25 an hour, and although protesting workers are seeking a raise to $15, other national leaders, including President Barack Obama, have suggested raising the hourly pay to $9 an hour. While restaurant jobs were once considered to be a stepping stone for teenagers entering the workforce, government figures report that today, the average employee working at a fast-food restaurant is 29-years-old.

Those protesting for higher wages also argue that the possibility of moving up in a fast-food restaurant business is difficult, as sometimes transitioning from part-time to full-time can be nearly impossible, especially since being a full-time employee means you receive certain benefits, such as healthcare and paid days off.

Thursday's protests are being supported by the United Auto Workers, the Presbyterian Church USA, several Congressional members and other individual churches and religious groups. Along with requesting a raise in pay, those protesting are also seeking assurance that workers who unionize will be protected. 

"McDonald's CEO last year made $13 million and they made almost $6 billion in profits, $9 billion in revenues, so we believe that these corporations can afford to pay their employees what is a living wage," Gina Chiara, spokesperson for the Stand Up Kansas City campaign, which is leading the fast-food worker protest in Kansas City, Missouri, told local Fox News 4 Kansas City.

"Studies have shown that here in Kansas City, a mom and one child should be making $17.21 an hour just to cover the basic necessities of life and these workers are not able to come close to that on minimum wage," Chaira adds.

Fast-food companies argue, however, that job opportunities could disappear should the minimum wage be raised, and some franchises may not expand to areas where their labor costs would increase. Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for the National Restaurant Association, told USA Today "a lot of jobs could disappear" if the minimum wage was raised.

Thursday's nationwide minimum wage protest is the second of its kind to take place in two months; earlier in the summer, 2,200 fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven U.S. cities. The strikes have been occurring sporadically since November 2012, when they first began in New York City.

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