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Government, Politics & Issues

Local fast-food activist to be featured at rally in California

Rasheen Aldridge speaks at a California rally.
Sean Soendker Nicholson | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Seven weeks after the local protests by fast-food workers in early May, activists reaffirm their belief that the two-day pickets did more than highlight the fight over restaurant workers’ low wages.

“St. Louis has developed a national reputation for strong community support,’’ said Martin Rafanan, community director for STL735, the name for the local effort to increase the minimum wage above the state’s $7.35 an hour.

St. Louis was the third city where the protests were held, following Chicago and New York.  Protests elsewhere have followed, but Rafanan said that St. Louis has seen some of the most effective results.

Despite some early threats or acts of retribution, Rafanan said none of the participating workers lost their jobs or saw their pay or hours cut, although in some cases community activists had to literally go up the food chain to the corporate management.

In addition, “bad (restaurant) managers were removed,’’ he said, including one at a St. Louis Jimmy Johns who was notable for forcing workers to wear signs that publicized their alleged misdeeds, such as not making sandwiches fast enough.

St. Louis worker to participate in California rally

All of that is the backdrop to Friday’s event in California where members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, according to their announcement, “will join workers in low-wage industries such as fast-food and retail to kick off the ‘Raise Up America’ campaign to raise pay for American workers, strengthen the middle class and get the economy moving again.”

The participating workers will include one sent from St. Louis: Rasheen Aldridge, the leader of the protest outside the St. Louis Jimmy Johns where he worked.

“We’re very happy that he’s part of this,’’ Rafanan said.

The aim now is to encourage Aldridge and other fast-food workers, locally and around the country, to continue their effort to improve wages within the industry.

Rafanan said it was a travesty that some fast-food workers were homeless, or lived in shelters, because they didn’t earn enough to pay for their basic needs.

The St. Louis area has about 36,000 fast-food workers, he said, adding that the hope is that more will follow in the footsteps of Aldridge. “Obviously, we need more people in the movement to show this is a growing effort,’’ Rafanan said. “There’s a lot of communities where other workers are expressing an interest.”

Friday’s ceremony in California, featuring Aldridge, is seen by local activists as an opportunity to showcase St. Louis as an example of how the fast-food protests can succeed.

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