Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2014

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Employment:

Las Vegas fast-food workers join nationwide fight for $15-an-hour wage

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Leila Navidi

Edgar Palacios, a McDonald’s employee protests with others for higher wages in front of his McDonald’s on the corner of Paradise Road and Sahara Avenue in Las Vegas on Thursday, August 29, 2013.

Fast-Food Wages Protest

Mcdonald's employees Salavador Hernandez, from left, Jorge Martinez and Socrates Garcia protest for higher wages in front of a McDonald's on the corner of Paradise Road and Sahara Avenue in Las Vegas on Thursday, August 29, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Joining their colleagues in cities across the country, employees at Las Vegas McDonald’s, KFC, Taco Bell and other fast-food restaurants walked off their jobs Thursday morning to protest low wages and lack of union representation.

Locally, the protests started at 6 a.m. Thursday, and three picket lines were set up at different fast-food restaurants over the course of the morning.

At the McDonald’s at Paradise Road and Sahara Avenue, approximately 30 workers and supporters from unions and other organizations gathered before 10 a.m., chanting and waving signs on the sidewalk.

“No justice, no fries,” the protesters bellowed as some passing cars honked in support while other vehicles dodged the picket line in order to get through the drive-thru.

Mae Vamos, 28, and Eric Bayan, 31, a couple with three kids at home, both work at McDonald’s and joined the protest. Vamos, a manager, makes $9.30 per hour and Bayan, a maintenance worker, brings home $8.50 per hour. Combined, they estimated they make $28,000 per year after taxes. They lamented they make so little that their children qualify for free lunch at school by a wide margin.

The couple has no health coverage for themselves; Medicaid covers their children.

“There were times when Eric would only get a three-hour shift and we would have to go from Chinatown to Green Valley, and by then you’ve practically spent what you’ll earn on transportation,” Vamos said. “We can only afford the bare minimum for our children.”

The workers are asking for $15 per hour, which Vamos said was fair.

“That would make such a huge difference for us, but even $10 or $12 per hour would be big,” she said.

Asked for comment, the McDonald’s Corp. referred the Sun to a prepared statement.

“McDonald's aims to offer competitive pay and benefits to our employees. We provide training and professional development for all of those who wish to take advantage of those opportunities,” the statement reads.

“McDonald’s does not determine wages set by our more than 3,000 U.S. franchisees. At the restaurants run by McDonald’s USA — less than 10 percent of the roughly 14,000 — we pay salaries that begin at minimum wage but range up from that figure depending on the job and employee’s experience level.”

McDonald’s Corp. did not respond to a request to speak to a Las Vegas franchisee.

At 10:30 a.m., the protesters moved a few blocks down Sahara Avenue to Maryland Parkway, where there is a McDonald’s, KFC and Taco Bell.

Beauleen Manuel, 29, is a manager in training at both the McDonald’s and KFC at the busy intersection. She skipped her Thursday shifts at both restaurants to join the protest.

She makes $8.25 per hour at KFC and said she had not received a raise in five years. At McDonald’s she earns $8.75 per hour. She works a total of 50 hours per week at the two chains, and, after paying her bills and expenses for three small children, she has nothing left over at the end of the month. With no health care, she paid out of pocket for her care during pregnancy. After a cesarean section, she owed $46,000, and she now makes monthly payments of $190 that she cannot always afford.

“The raise in wages would make a huge difference for me,” Manuel said. “Right now I can barely pay rent, electricity and the other bills. If I just paid my electricity bill, I have to ask my landlord for extra time to pay rent. We spend my kids’ birthdays at home because I can’t afford to take them out. We have to save up just to go to Chuck E Cheese’s.”

A manager at the KFC said she was not permitted to comment on the record but said the walkout had not affected restaurant operations.

Yum! Brands, parent company for KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, referred a Sun reporter to the National Restaurant Association, which provided a statement: "We welcome a national discussion on wages, but it should be based on facts. The restaurant industry is the second-largest private sector employer, and our industry is an industry of opportunity. Nine out of 10 salaried restaurant workers, including owners and managers, started as hourly workers. The fact is, only 5 percent of restaurant employees earn the minimum wage. Those that do are predominantly working part time, and half are teenagers."

There are 27,000 fast-food workers in Las Vegas,. They earn a median hourly wage of $9.27, according to the local organizing group Fight for 15 Las Vegas, which includes support from Service Employees International Union, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and ProgressNow Nevada.

According to a living wage calculator developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single adult working full time must earn $9.63 per hour in Clark County to meet basic living expenses. A single adult supporting one child would need to earn $20.67 hourly to meet expenses.

Salvador Hernandez, 24, lives with his girlfriend and makes $8.55 per hour at McDonald’s. He said he had received one 10-cent raise in two years. He has spent four years attending classes at College of Southern Nevada because he can afford to take only a few hours per semester. When his car broke down, he needed a loan from his girlfriend’s father.

In 2012, McDonald’s opened 1,400 new restaurants and revenues totaled $27.6 billion, a 2 percent bump over 2011. Net income was $5.5 billion.

Yum! Brands opened 2,000 new restaurants in 2012 and reported $13.6 billion in revenue and $1.6 billion in net income.

Both companies increased the dividends returned to investors in 2012 by more than 10 percent.

Similar strikes were organized earlier this summer by fast-food workers demanding higher wages and union representation, but this was the first such action in Las Vegas.

In addition to Las Vegas, strikes were organized across the country, including in Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Detroit; Hartford, Conn.; Houston; Los Angeles; Memphis; New York; Oakland; and Raleigh, N.C.

“To get the companies to change it will take a lot more of this,” said SEIU data analyst John Courtney, who joined the protesters. “There are people who work two fast-food jobs and still can’t live on the money. I’m not sure how they expect people to live on these wages. We just have to keep the pressure up.”

As the protest rally in front of the KFC wound down and workers dispersed, they chanted, “We’ll be back.”

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