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Iowa City community members participate in a nationwide one-day strike

BY ABIGAIL MEIER | DECEMBER 06, 2013 5:00 AM

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With poor conditions in her home of Sudan, Mazahir Salih came to the United States in 1997 in search of the “American Dream.” After arriving in Falls Church, Va., Salih obtained her first job at the local McDonald’s to help support her family.

“I remember I was new to the country and my English was not very good, but what I did know was what you work for is what you get,” Salih said.

She once made $5.25 an hour, and while she transferred jobs, and 16 years have passed, she said she is still disappointed with minimum wage’s slow increase.

She was one of roughly 30 who protested in freezing temperatures outside McDonald’s, 804 S. Riverside Drive, on Thursday in support of the fast-food worker movement that was started in New York City in November 2012. Dec. 5 marked a nationwide, one-day strike in more than 100 cities to fight for a minimum wage of $15/hour.

Cathy Glasson, the president of the Service Employees International Union Local 199, said the large corporations such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s are receiving enough profit to be able to increase wages without affecting the corporations drastically.

“It is a win-win for Iowa City and any community with these fast-food restaurants,” Glasson said. “They employ so many people, it would really drive the economy because if [the workers] have higher wages, they will buy more.”

Beth Ingram, a University of Iowa economics professor and provost for undergraduate education, said the debate argues if the price of labor increases, the prices of the products produced by those corporations will as well — which may lay off more workers.

“So what you are doing is charging people a little bit more to pay for the workers at places like McDonald’s or Wendy’s,” Ingram said. “The idea of raising minimum wage means the people have to pay the higher prices.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement that he supports proposals to increase minimum wage as long as the plan includes regulatory or tax relief for small businesses to encourage employers not to reduce payrolls. He said he also opposes efforts to increase the minimum wage “without any provisions to mitigate the negative effects on employers.”

“A minimum-wage increase adds to the cost of operating a business and in turn can force a small business owner to reduce hours, scale back employee benefits, or even terminate current employees,” Grassley said.

Jim Jacobson, a staff member of the Service Employees International Union who was also at the protest, said these industries are driving employee wages down while they continue to rake in billions of dollars.

“Places like McDonald’s and Burger King make billions of dollars,” Jacobson said. “They frighten people by making a Happy Meal unhappy by scaring them with expensive prices.”

In a statement from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, he explained over a large portion of time, prices continue to rise. However, he said, paychecks have not received the appropriate increase to support a family, and as a result, tens of millions of Americans are struggling to “make ends meet.”

“At just $7.25 an hour, today’s minimum wage has one-third less buying power than it did at its peak in 1968,” Harkin said. “Even since the last minimum-wage increase, prices of basic necessities have risen substantially — while workers’ paychecks have not grown.”

Glasson said this issue is long overdue, and the issue is finally becoming a major debate throughout the nation.

“We have waited too long,” she said. “We will continue this campaign until these workers can live the American Dream.”


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