BOSTON — As part of a national day of protests, fast food workers in Boston are asking for higher wages. Dozens of people rallied outside a Dorchester Burger King Thursday afternoon.
The crowd was a mix of union members and fast food workers, all calling for a hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“We’re here to let these fast food companies know that the time has come to pay their workers a living wage and [allow them] the right to form a union,” said Melonie Griffiths, with the labor advocacy group Jobs with Justice, which helped organize the demonstration. “We will no longer tolerate our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors being retaliated against for speaking out against starvation wages and these bad conditions on the job.”
Many of the protesters said they have to work second, or even third, jobs to make ends meet.
Christopher Cobb, 18, works at a Burger King near the Park Street MBTA station for $8 an hour, which is the state’s minimum wage.
He said raising it to even $11 an hour would make a big difference in helping him go to school and support his family.
“It’s hard to get my foot in the door and start a career when I have to balance out my time between work and college,” Cobb said.
On the other side of the issue is the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
Its president, Bob Luz, says the minimum wage is not meant to be a living wage. He says it’s for entry-level work, while providing opportunity for growth.
“If you see the career ladders that this industry shows, it speaks for itself. It’s unparalleled,” Lutz said. “The amount of hourly workers that move into owning franchises in the establishments that they’re striking against today is an incredibly high number. This is an industry of growth. The restaurant industry is the path to middle income.”
Kyle King disputes that notion. He’s worked at a Boston Burger King for nine years, and makes $8.15 an hour.
“You do have a lot of people like myself who are adult workers, who are in their 30s or 40s, who deserve more pay because they’ve been there a long time,” King said. “And if you’ve been there for a long time, it means you do a good job. And those people deserve a better wage and they deserve an increase in pay.”
Other arguments against a minimum wage hike include that it would force companies to lay off workers, or at least pass on costs to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Jeannette Wicks-Lim, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says even with a minimum wage of $15, price increases would not be significant.
“When the minimum wage goes up in bigger and bigger sizes, you’re still looking at something probably on the order of 5 or 6 percent of a cost increase relative to sales,” she said.
Last month the Massachusetts Senate approved a measure to raise the minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2016. The House is expected to vote on the matter next month.