Fast-Food Workers' Strike: 5 Legal Take-Aways

By Betty Wang, JD on August 02, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Thousands of fast food workers from well-known chains have gone on one-day strikes across the nation to demand higher wages -- namely, $15 an hour.

The movement started in New York City earlier this year and soon spread to Chicago and Washington, D.C., The New York Times reports. This week, the strikes hit various cities in the Midwest.

The national campaign is unique in that it doesn't involve one particular company or store. Rather, the goal is to mobilize all low-wage workers at two dozen fast-food chains where unions do not currently exist.

Here are five things you should know about the fast food workers' strike:

1. What Do They Want?

The strike's goal is to achieve a wage increase to $15 an hour. That would be a huge raise for most fast-food workers who are paid their state's minimum wage, or the federal level which is currently at $7.25. Under state and federal minimum wage laws, an employer only is legally required to pay at least the federal minimum wage.

2. Can They Get Fired for Striking?

No, the workers cannot actually get fired for striking. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) grants workers the right to strike; a strike for higher wages falls under the category of an "economic strike." That means the workers "retain their status as employees and cannot be discharged, but they can be replaced by their employer" under certain circumstances, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

However, while picketing your employer for higher wages is protected, there are certain limitations. Workers are not allowed to threaten employers, engage in violence, or block the entrance to the business, for example.

3. Can They Get in Trouble for Trying to Unionize?

No, the workers should not face any negative consequences from their employers for attempting to form a union, according to the NLRB. Workers generally have the right to try to unionize where no union exists, according to the NLRA. Keep in mind, though, that the Act only covers private employers who do business in interstate commerce. That would include fast-food chains. But railroad, airline, and public employees are excluded from the NLRA's protections.

4. Who's Behind This Fast-Food Workers' Strike?

Though none of the low-wage workers on strike is reporesented by a union, the campaign is being bankrolled by one. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is pouring money, organizers, and time into underwriting the cause. "Our union's members think that economic inequality is the No. 1 problem our nation needs to solve," SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told the Times.

5. What's Next?

More strikes are planned in other cities, and fast-food workers have the option of continuing to walk the picket lines until their demands are met. But as these strikes are billed as one-day strikes, it's not clear that's going to happen.

A more realistic strategy may be to push for more local and state "living wage" laws while lobbying Congress to do the same with the federal minimum wage.

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