December 5 2013
PITTSTON TWP. — “We can’t survive on $7.25.”
That was the message written on signs of about a dozen union labor supporters at McDonald’s on state Route 315 on Thursday pressing for an increase in the federal minimum wage.
The protest was one of many taking place in cities across the country by fast-food workers and supporters who are calling for a $15-per-hour wage for fast-food jobs, as well as the right to form unions without retaliation. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which is what it remains in Pennsylvania.
Protesters, none of whom worked at the franchise, were initially inside the business late Thursday morning and then came outside, where they chanted as customers entered the fast-food restaurant and drive-thru.
“McDonald’s, McDonald’s, can’t you see what a living wage means to me?” the protesters chanted.
The store’s management had members of the press stand off the property.
Pittston Township Police Chief Robert Avvisato arrived with another officer and asked the protesters to leave. Protesters moved toward the roadway and insisted they were on public property, but Avvisato explained they were causing traffic hazards during the afternoon lunch hour and blocking the restaurant’s entrance.
Avvisato then said he would arrest the protesters if they didn’t leave. Another officer retrieved an extra pair of handcuffs and had a mace canister ready.
Chris Sloat, organizer of the protest, said the police response was expected. Sloat is a political advisor for Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a health care union with 2.1 million members.
She said the protest was held at the Pittston Township store because of its easily accessible location and visibility to traffic
The reaction was also not surprising for Rose Yanko, 46, of Wilkes-Barre.
She was a community activist at the protest, and recorded it on her tablet device. She said there were “no guilt feelings on our part” despite the police response.
She said the protest was held “to defend people who don’t make enough money, have families to support, work very hard and need a livable wage.”
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour just doesn’t cut it for protesters. Sloat said not many people intend to make a career out of working at a fast-food restaurant, but it happens the job market is tight right now. She said the average age of fast-food workers is 28, and many have families.
Sloat also said many workers are forced to rely on public assistance programs on the current wage.
“These are multibillion-dollar companies,” she said. “They could afford to increase the wages.”
Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director for the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) disagreed. The organization released a statement on the protests that have spread throughout the country. Schaeffer said it is assumed that fast-food companies like McDonald’s and Wendy’s can easily afford to increase wages.
“That’s just not the case,” she said in the statement. “Most franchises operate on very small margins. That’s why we have recently seen fast-food restaurants react to new health care mandates by reducing their workforce and cutting back workers’ hours.
Schaeffer said the protests and a higher mandatory minimum wage won’t help the prospect of low-wage workers, and that they “in fact, could backfire on those workers by reducing employment opportunities.”
Roxanne Pauline, coordinator for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation, was at the protest calling a wage increase a good idea, but added it would have to go higher over time.
“We’re living in a world now that is completely different than it was 25 to 30 years ago,” she said. “So if it changed, we have to change with it and we have to demand the changes that we need to make in order to make a comfortable living.
Yanko and Sloat said a wage increase would benefit the economy and take pressure off government-funded programs.
Sloat said any change from where the wage is now would be positive. While many question if a $15 wage is too much for fast-food workers, Sloat said compromise would be necessary.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, is in favor of a wage increase with the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013. A news release from the senator’s office on Thursday said Casey is calling for a federal minimum wage of $10.10.
The increase would “increase wages in Pennsylvania by over $1 billion and add thousands of jobs,” the release said.