Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is expected to join McDonald’s workers in Iowa on Saturday as they strike to demand a $15 hourly wage and the right to form a union.
The California senator and Democratic 2020 hopeful revealed her plans to HuffPost on Wednesday, saying she would work to defend union rights if elected president.
“I have fought with organized labor throughout my career and I’m proud to stand in solidarity with McDonald’s workers in Iowa fighting for the wages and benefits they deserve,” Harris said. “Unions built the middle class and yet they are under attack from the Supreme Court to the White House. We need a leader and president who will stand with unions and working people ― I have been that leader and will be that president.”
Saturday’s strike is part of the union-backed Fight for $15 movement demanding an increase in the minimum wage for workers in numerous industries across the country.
Sherry Currie, a 48-year-old McDonald’s cashier in Des Moines, said she earns $8.50 an hour and struggles to support herself and her three daughters.
“It’s just not possible,” Currie said. “Every month I struggle to pay my bills while also dealing with disrespect at work. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is making billions in profits thanks to workers like me.”
Currie and other McDonald’s workers are fighting for union rights in an attempt to address systemic problems like low wages, sexual harassment and workplace violence at the world’s largest restaurant chain.
“Having the right to come together and form a union with my co-workers would allow us to help fix big problems like low wages and workplace harassment. With this week’s strike, we demand McDonald’s listen to us,” Currie said.
McDonald’s has been accused of retaliating against union activists, even winding up in a trial at the federal labor board in 2016.
“The average starting wage at corporate-owned restaurants is over $10 per hour and exceeds the federal minimum wage,” a company spokesperson told HuffPost on Wednesday. “McDonald’s believes elected leaders have a responsibility to set, debate and change mandated minimum wages and does not lobby against or participate in any activities opposing raising the minimum wage. McDonald’s recognizes the rights under the law of individual employees to choose to join – or choose not to join – labor organizations.”
Harris previously joined McDonald’s workers striking in Las Vegas in June, where she spoke of her own experience working at the fast-food chain.
“I was a student when I worked at McDonald’s,” the senator said. “There was not a family relying on me to pay the rent, put food on the table.”
She continued: “But the reality of McDonald’s is that a majority of the folks who are working there today are relying on that income to sustain a household and a family. We have got to recognize that working people deserve livable wages.”
Several other Democratic 2020 candidates, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) have also joined McDonald’s workers in recent protests. Almost every other Democrat in the race has voiced their support for the workers in one way or another.
Activists see this widespread support for the cause as a tidal shift in the country’s thinking on labor unions and the minimum wage. The U.S. House of Representatives voted in July to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. California and New York have passed laws raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Many other cities and states around the country have proposed doing likewise.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which backs the Fight for $15 campaign, said she will join the strike line with Harris and McDonald’s workers on Saturday.
“It’s time to rewrite the rules so workers can come together across the fast-food industry to negotiate with companies, including McDonald’s,” she said. “We’re demanding workers have a true seat at the table with McDonald’s and all corporations.”
This story has been updated with comment from McDonald’s.