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400 Brave NYC Fast Food Workers Unite & Strike!

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Did you know that approximately $200 billion is grossed annually by the fast food industry?

Did you know that the average yearly salary of fast food employees in NYC is $11,000? Pretty small considering the City’s notorious sky-high rents and cost of living!

Did you know that $25,000 is the average DAILY salary of most fast food industry CEOs? (Over two times what the average NYC fast food worker makes in a year!)

Something is colossally and amorally wrong with this economic picture.

Last Thursday, April 4, 2013, 400 courageous workers from approximately 70 NYC fast food restaurants -- McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King, Taco Bell, and others -- walked off their jobs to protest non-survivable wages, meager or no benefits, erratic scheduling, and an inability to collectively bargain without intimidation and retaliation. Three fast food restaurants in the City had to close down entirely.

Fast food workers are among New York City’s lowest paid workers. According to Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO:

These men and women work hard. Fast-food workers are being mistreated, and they're underpaid. They feed our country. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. In New York City, workers in the fast-food industry only make 25% of the money they need to survive.

There are a whopping 50,000 plus fast food employees in NYC. Still, 400 going on strike is being heralded as the largest such industry strike in history. There had been a one-day strike last November in which an estimated 200 workers bravely walked off the job. Last Thursday the number of strikers doubled.

Lauren McCauley in “We Deserve Better”: Striking NYC Fast Food Workers Demand Higher Pay” quotes Glenda Soto, a McDonald’s worker:

“We deserve better," ... "I work very hard. I’m a single mom, I have 3 kids, and on $7.25 an hour I can’t support them, and I can’t give them the education I want them to have. That hurts all of us."

Emily Jane Fox in “New York McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza workers strike” interviewed Noel, one of the protesters:

Noel Scott has been delivering Domino's Pizza in New York City for three years. He makes $5.45 an hour plus tips and has to work two other jobs to pay the bills.

snip

Scott said he delivers pizza about 25 hours a week. He also moonlights as a security guard and repairman in order to pay rent. In total, he works about 43 hours each week and gets no benefits.

While minimum wage in New York is $7.25 an hour, food service workers may earn $4.65 an hour because their total compensation includes expected tips
.
"You don't have a life when you get paid this little. My body is breaking down," he said. "And with no benefits, we can't afford to get sick."

Joel Rose in “NYC’s Fast Food Workers Strike, Demand ‘Living Wages’” interviewed Joseph Barrera who earns $7.25 an hour and works at a Brooklyn KFC restaurant.

"We help them earn those billions of dollars that give them the lifestyle that the CEOs get. They earn million-dollar paychecks, so why can't they give us something that we can live on?"

Josh Eidelson of Salon:

Barrera ... said that a decent raise would allow him to stop skipping meals and start pursuing college. “Maybe I could afford to have a girlfriend, take her out on a date …” he added. “All of that money goes right now to just surviving.”

Rose interviewed other workers:

Shenise Hendricks and Lourdy Eferance have both worked at a Wendy's restaurant in Brooklyn for four years. Hendricks is paid $8 an hour and Eferance is paid $7.50 an hour. They say that it's a struggle to live in New York on this salary.

And Wendy's isn't an easy place to work, says Hendricks. For example, if she tries to call in sick to work, she gets written up.

snip

... Gregory Renoso, who makes minimum wage as a deliveryman for Domino's Pizza. "People like me, we don't have education to get a better job," ... "We have to do the fast-food industry. But the fast-food industry [doesn't] pay."

From Democracy Now, Roslynn Russell of Domino’s and Tabitha Verges of Burger King both insist they deserve a “living” wage:

Roslynn Russell: "I go to work every day, I do my job, and I just can’t survive out here. I’m basically working my butt off and still having to rely on food stamps."

Tabitha Verges: "It’s hard to find another job. This is why I’m still stuck at Burger King for the past four years. If it was easy to find another job, I wouldn’t be out here right now fighting for $15 an hour and a union."

Rose had this to say about follow-up queries to relevant fast-food companies:

Wendy's declined to comment for this story. In fact, none of the fast-food companies we called wanted to be interviewed.

In a statement, a spokesman for Burger King says the company has provided "an entry point into the work-force for millions of Americans," including many who went on to be franchise owners.

The National Restaurant Association says the industry provides more than 13 million jobs — jobs that could be jeopardized if the minimum wage goes up. In a statement, the association says the industry is "one of the best paths to achieving the American Dream."

Currently, the MEDIAN wage for fast food workers in New York City is $9 an hour. That means that full time workers pull in an average yearly income of $18,500. According to Emily Jane Fox, “That's about $4,500 lower than Census Bureau's poverty income threshold level of $23,000 for a family of four.”

McCauley cites a statement released by the strike’s “organizing coalition” (supported by labor, religious and community groups), Fast Food Forward (responsible for my introductory statistics), about the dire economic situations of these workers:

"Fast food workers often qualify for food stamps and other public assistance," they write, "which means that corporations in the $200 billion fast food industry are forcing taxpayers to subsidize their low wages and burdening the US economy."

"While fast food corporations reap the benefits of record profits, workers are barely getting by," the group continues on their website. "In America, people who work hard should be able to afford basic necessities like groceries, rent, childcare and transportation."

Incidentally, funding for such food stamps is diminishing fast, not only because of the sequester, but according to Kate Randall of wsws, post-economic crisis stimulus-dedicated funding for food stamps will end in October, 2013.

Jonathan Westin, director of the Fast Food Forward campaign had this to say about the last strike:

"The protestors in November showed that workers were able to look their managers in their faces and say they deserve better," ... "Other workers were emboldened and the numbers are continuing to grow."

Joel Rose quotes more from Westin:

"It's not teenagers working after-school jobs,” ... "It's adults with families that are trying to take care of their kids and can't put food on the table. They can work here for 10, 15 years and still be making the same wages as when they started."

snip

"Folks can't just move on to other jobs," ... "If they could, they probably would have, because the conditions are so bad. The problem is, these are the jobs that are out there. There's really nowhere to go." And while corporations are recovering, the working class is not, he adds.

New York's minimum wage is already set to rise to $9 an hour over the next three years. But according to Westin, that change will be too little, too late for many of those who are striking today.

This second strike was planned deliberately for April 4th because it was the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, when King was in Memphis, Tennessee, fighting for economic justice for striking sanitation workers there. According to Paul Harris of the guardian two of the original Memphis sanitation strikers travelled to New York City last week to help inspire some of the striking fast food workers.

Civil rights activist Minister Kirsten John Foy with the National Action Network in Brooklyn declared according to McCauley: "To think that in 2013 we're having the same discussion about gaining a respectable wage and the right to organize as we had in 1968 is ludicrous."

Westin is also quoted by Bryan Carey of the Examiner:

Earning the minimum wage, presently set at $7.25 per hour, makes it very difficult for anyone to survive. At that rate of pay, a standard 40 hour work week earns an employee gross earnings of just $290. Subtracting Social Security taxes, federal taxes, etc., and the employee is left with about $230 to $270, depending on the state and locality of residence. This is barely enough for a single person to live on, much less enough to support a family trying to stick with a tight budget.

Fast Food Forward is seeking a large bump in wages that would more than double the current level of pay. The organization wants to see the fast food industry cough up $15 per hour for fast food employees working in New York City. Most agree that such a demand is unrealistic, but the organization is asking for this amount regardless, likely hoping that the industry can possibly meet workers halfway.

Of course, the non-empathetic to the poor and working poor over at “Fox & Friends” had this to say according to Media Matters:

BRIAN KILMEADE: So I believe, you -- minimum wage was never meant to be a career wage. If you work hard you will get higher -- you will get more money. Here's the other thing, as hard as it is in some cases, because you are a single mom or a single dad, you've got to get another job. You've got to get another job on top of that so you have two incomes. Hopefully, that will change.

STEVE DOOCY: Brian you hit it on the nose I think the key thing. If it is a minimum wage job, expect to get paid the minimum wage. The National Restaurant Association said that they provide 13 million jobs, and those jobs could be jeopardized across the country if the minimum wage goes up. The industry says one of the best paths to achieving the American dream is to start with an entry level, minimum-wage job that is minimum wage.

The fast food industry is where more and more Americans will have to turn for employment due to our government’s sustained and destructive full out embrace of outsourcing and globalization. From Media Matters:

According to an August 2012 National Employment Law Project report, lower-wage jobs, including "food preparation workers," accounted for 58 percent of job growth during the recovery from the recession. And according to 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly half of minimum wage earners, like those fast food workers on strike, are 25 years old and older.

The pay these workers receive is worth less and less. A December 2011 Bloomberg article noted that the minimum wage in 2010 was worth 20 percent less than it was in 1967. While the value of the minimum wage has declined, worker productivity has increased. A February Huffington Post article citing the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) noted that if the minimum wage had kept up with worker productivity, it would've reached $21.72 an hour in 2012.

A December 2012 Bloomberg article that described the difficulties of being a fast food service worker noted that while the fast food industry has recently enjoyed double-digit profit growth, that growth was not passed down to workers.

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Additionally, there is a sizable gap between the New York City minimum wage and what experts project the livable wage should be in the New York City region. According to The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's minimum wage calculator, a living wage in New York City for one adult is $12.75 an hour, as opposed to the current $7.25 an hour and the $9.00 an hour minimum wage set to take effect in the state in 2016.

To strike with the unemployment rate the way it is today? To strike when you have no savings and not only need your fast food job but another one or more like two to try to feed and shelter yourself and maybe a family? To strike you have to be pretty FED UP. You have to be madder than hell and you don’t want to take it any more!!!!! And pretty bottom-line desperate.

In this merciless and often jobless America with an economic climate of 40% of financial income in the hands of the top 1% and 1% of income in the hands of the bottom 40%, 400 brave fast food employees in NYC last Thursday struck!!!!

Obama from the White House and some others in Congress claim they are fighting for raising the minimum wage to $9. Hmmmm. CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN? (And can we believe they will even pull that INADEQUATE increase off?) I’m thinking UNBELIEVABLE CHUMP CHANGE in terms of what 2013 living REALLY costs!

Last Thursday 400 brave New Yorkers resurrected the spirit of Martin Luther King and said "NO!" to an exploitive corporate class and the betraying politicians who no longer seem to have any sensibility of the "common good" or the "public trust."

Help out these gutsy, proactive, risk-taking-for-all-of-us citizens. Please sign their petition!

[cross-posted on open salon]

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Submitted by MontanaMaven on

I heard two of them on "All In with Chris Hayes". The young woman worked full time and earned $120 a week at the minimum wage. Her rent is $700 a month. The young man was 23 and hadn't had a raise in 6 years. Was wearing a torn jacket his friend gave him. They were fed up and out on strike.
Since signing petitions, rallying in D.C., calling Congress, don't work, seems a general strike especially of sanitation and sewer workers might help. Dumping our garbage in front of Goldman Sachs? If we could only get the people who serve the oligarchs to stop serving them, we might get somewhere. Not sure I have the courage that these people have though.

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