Fast food workers return to jobs after walkouts

by: Chris Legeros Updated:

SEATTLE —

McDonald's, Burger King and Subway restaurants all had walkouts in Seattle Thursday.

Fast-food workers said they can't make it on minimum wages of just over $9 an hour and demanded a wage of $15 an hour.

When Phillip Neel returned to his job at a Chipotle Mexican Grill Friday morning, labor activists and Seattle City Councilman Mike O'Brien escorted him inside to remind the manager that federal law prevented him from firing or retaliating against Neel for striking.

"Federal law does protect people's rights to strike, even if you're not organized,” said O'Brien.

They made it clear that Neel was unconditionally returning to his job, and the Chipotle manager made it clear that he couldn't pay Neel $15 an hour.

Minutes later, Neel was back in his apron, preparing Mexican food.

Neel said fast food workers are not organizing or joining a union, but rather starting a movement to fight for more pay.

“We have to work outside the union bureaucracy to actually get things done. We have to take direct action as workers,” said Neel.

 That means there could be more walkouts in the future, without any union involvement.

Getting fast-food outlets to cough up more cash could be a huge challenge.

The Washington Restaurant Association said its members already pay some of the highest labor costs in the country. That includes the highest statewide minimum wage and the highest costs for unemployment insurance and worker's compensation, a spokeswoman said.