In an attempt to galvanize the public, UC Berkeley professor of public policy Robert Reich recently launched a petition urging two of the nation’s biggest employers of low-wage workers to pay their employees higher wages.
The petition takes issue with McDonald’s and Wal-Mart paying their employees less than $9 an hour. Reich wants the two firms to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour so employees will be able to cover their basic living costs.
His petition has already gathered more than 56,000 signatures. Reich noted that now is an opportune time to launch initiatives such as this petition.
On Thursday, hundreds of San Francisco supporters joined Wal-Mart workers in a nationwide day of protests, calling for better jobs with the country’s largest private employer, according to a press release by the Organization United for Respect at Walmart.
“We are calling on Wal-Mart to treat their employees with dignity and respect,” said Derrick Plummer, spokesperson with Making Change at Walmart, a campaign that is pressuring Walmart to raise its wages.
In addition, workers at fast-food restaurant chains staged strikes, walkouts and rallies protesting low minimum wages last Thursday. Employees from more than 30 businesses, including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC and Burger King, walked out in cities from Richmond to Fremont.
Reich said that in order to compensate for the low wages McDonald’s and Wal-Mart employees earn, the public contributes to employees’ costs through federal programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.
“It’s only appropriate that they pay their employees higher wages and end these public subsidies,” Reich said in an email. “Most of these workers are adults who typically bring home almost half their families’ earnings, unlike 20 years ago, when most minimum wage workers were teenagers or retirees.”
However, Wal-Mart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said Reich’s petition failed to mention that Wal-Mart is a major job creator, according to an article in the Huffington Post.
Lundberg told the Huffington Post that Wal-Mart provides between 15,000 and 50,000 jobs, and the company gives about 160,000 promotions a year.
In a blog post on his website, Reich called this response “brutally irrelevant.”
“The brute fact is Walmart’s typical employee is still paid less than $9 an hour,” Reich said in his blog. “To offer lousy jobs on such an extraordinary scale is not something to brag about.”
This is not the first time Reich has initiated a petition to mobilize action. Two months ago, he launched a video and petition supporting immigration reform, which drew about 300,000 signatures.
Cal Berkeley Democrats President Sofie Karasek, not speaking on behalf of her organization, said she supports the ongoing efforts to help workers.
“Wages have remained stagnant for over 30 years, and raising the minimum wage is a great opportunity to increase the purchasing power of millions of Americans,” she said.
Contact Matt Trejo at [email protected].
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Derrick Plummer as a protest organizer. In fact, he is a spokesperson with Making Change at Walmart.