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Fast food workers plan nationwide strike on Thursday

Workers have said they're committed to doing "whatever it takes" for a union and higher wages, raising the possibility of civil disobedience and arrests.
Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles, California May 15, 2014.
Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles, California May 15, 2014.

Thousands of fast food workers across the United States will once again go on strike this Thursday, representatives of the Fight for 15 movement announced Monday night. The new strike will likely be comparable in size to the last one, which occurred in mid-May and affected fast food restaurants in 150 U.S. cities. But unlike any previous strikes in the fast food industry, Thursday's action is likely to feature acts of civil disobedience in at least a handful of cities. If workers do risk arrest on Thursday, that would represent a significant escalation in movement tactics and militancy.

"If workers do risk arrest on Thursday, that would represent a significant escalation in movement tactics and militancy."'

This week's strike will be the first major fast food worker action since the first-ever Fight for 15 convention, which took place in late July. Many of the workers who attended the conference expressed a desire to escalate the campaign, and a handful of scheduled speakers extolled the virtues of civil disobedience. At the end of the convention, workers agreed to a resolution saying they would do "whatever it takes" to win.

Terrence Wise, a Missouri-based Burger King employee and a member of the Fight for 15 national organizing committee, cited that resolution in a statement regarding Thursday's upcoming strike.

"Thirteen hundred workers unanimously adopted a resolution at our convention in July to do whatever it takes to win $15 an hour and union rights, including participating in non-violent, peaceful protests in the tradition of the civil rights movement," he said. "On Thursday, we are prepared to take arrests to show our commitment to the growing Fight for $15."

The announcement of a new strike came just hours after President Obama name checked the fast food workers' movement in his Labor Day address to the nation. During a speech in Milwaukee, Wisc., the president cited the movement as evidence that "America deserves a raise."

"All across the country right now, there’s a national movement going on made up of fast food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity," he said.

This is the first time the president has acknowledged fast food workers in a major address, although other national Democratic figures have previously signaled their support for the movement. During a late July speech to a crowd of progressive activists, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said: "We believe that fast food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them."

Members of the Fight for 15 campaign are demanding a base wage of $15 per hour and the right to form a union. In support of that demand, they have spent nearly two years engaging in a series of increasingly large day-long strikes against the fast food industry. The strikes thus far have not featured planned acts of civil disobedience, although 138 workers did get arrested for trespassing on McDonald's corporate campus during a May protest against the company. Several of those who had gotten arrested went on to speak about the experience at Fight for 15's July convention.

“It wasn’t nothing to be scared of. We were in, we were out, we were back home with our families,” Melinda Topel, a McDonald’s worker from Kansas City, Mo., told the workers in the audience. “And I guarantee you that if everyone in this room did civil disobedience, these corporations would have to listen to us.”

Workers speaking to msnbc the week before Thursday's strike were not able to confirm whether any acts of civil disobedience would take place. However, they referenced their willingness to do "whatever it takes" on several occasions.

"I don't even know if that's in the strategy," said Darrell Roper, a New York-based Burger King employee, regarding the possibility of illegal activity. "All I can say is that we all came together and we all decided we'll do whatever it takes to get $15."

Roper, who makes $9 per hour after a decade of working at the same restaurant, said he joined the movement and began striking because he saw no other way of contesting "abusive" management practices, such as screaming epithets at the employees. The movement, he said, "is basically my lifeline."

"Who's going to help me? Who's going to listen to my plea? Who's going to have any understanding?" he said. "When you have a grievance, who do you go to? You can't go to your manager."

Andrew McConnell, a McDonald's worker based out of Kansas City, Mo., said he expects Thursday's strike to be "a very positive experience."

"I think it's going to be even more uplifting because some people who are just joining the movement are getting to realize and understand the purpose of the strike and why we're here," he said. "Some people take part in things and they don't even know why they're doing it, but I think after the convention people are enlightened."

McConnell single-handedly supports his five children and severely disabled sister off the $7.45 per hour he makes at McDonald's, where his work schedule varies wildly from week to week. He also earns a little money on the side by selling Avon cosmetics and LegalShield products, but he's still "constantly trying to make ends meet," he said.

"There's never a time when I'm not up on the computer all night talking to customers for my other businesses. There's never a time I'm not working outside of McDonald's to make ends meet," he said. "The check is never enough. $7.45 is never enough."

Asked whether he would be willing to risk arrest on Thursday, McConnell repeated the "whatever it takes" mantra.

"Whatever it takes is whatever it takes," he said.