‘Supersize Our Wages,’ Say Striking NYC Fast Food Workers
“No more lies, hold the fries,” chanted protesters outside a New York City Burger King Thursday during what experts are calling the first-ever multi-restaurant strike by fast food workers in the United States. “Supersize our wages.”
Literally hundreds of fast food workers from McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, Wendy’s, Domino’s and Papa John’s walked off the job, demanding better wages and union recognition, driven by a campaign called Fast Food Forward. Funded by New York Communities for Change, 40 full-time campaign organizers have been working on the effort for months, slowly building support. Traditionally, organizing fast-food workers is difficult because of the high turnover rate associated with the industry
“It’s a fairly high-turnover position, so there’s never been a successful union effort,” Domino’s Pizza spokesman Tim McIntyre told the New York Times. “People who are doing this part time, seasonally or as they work their way through college don’t find interest in membership.”
But in recent years the face of the fast food worker has changed as middle-aged and elderly workers look to employment at places like McDonald’s as a last resort. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of fast food workers is now 32 years, and two thirds of the employees are women. The older employees know the value a union can bring to a workplace.
“Back in the 1980s, I had a job where I belonged to Local 1199,” McDonald’s cashier Linda Archer, 59, told the New York Daily News. “We had real benefits.”
Still, Archer’s manager threatened her job after finding out she was collecting signatures for a petition to join the campaign. Archer stood firm, however.
“They’re intimidating, especially with the Hispanics and the immigrants. They put the fear in them,” she said. “I know a union would protect us.”
Fast-food workers are some of the lowest paid jobs in the country. According to employer review site Glassdoor.com, McDonald’s pays its crew members an average of $7.63 per hour. Burger King and Wendy’s pay $7.66 an hour, and Taco Bell a whopping $7.77. For fast food workers, that’s an annual income of $16,000 if they work full time 52 weeks a year. Much of the industry employs workers only part-time, however, which also deprives them of benefits and other labor protections.
“The fast-food industry employs tens of thousands of workers in New York and pays them poverty wages,” New York Communities for Change director Jonathan Westin told the Times. “A lot of them can’t afford to get by. A lot of them have to rely on public assistance, and taxpayers are often footing the bill because these companies are not paying a living wage.”
The striking workers hope to unionize and secure wages of $15 an hour. They also want to obtain benefits like affordable health insurance and paid sick days. A tough battle may await them.
“It’s going to be a lot harder for them to win union recognition,” Cornell labor relations professor Richard Hurd told the Times. “Parent companies will fight hard against it, because they worry if you unionize fast-food outlets in New York, that’s going to have a lot of ramifications elsewhere.”