Fast food workers walk out, seek living wages, union recognition

NEW YORK CITY – Fed up with wages so low that they often face eviction, and lack of power to fight for a decent living standard, thousands of New York City fast food workers staged a second one-day walkout from their jobs, on April 4.

The workers, led by Fast Food Forward, a community-based organizing group, demanded living wages of $15 an hour – barely enough to survive on in New York – and the right to organize without employer interference. It was their second walkout. The first was in November.

The Service Employees gives financial and logistical backing to Fast Food Forward. The group also sent out a nationwide e-mail asking for signers on a petition demanding the higher wages and union recognition.

There are 50,000 fast food workers at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and similar eateries in New York. Most are immigrants, members of minority groups, or both. The average New York fast food worker earns $8.25 hourly.

“Right now, the overwhelming majority of workers are paid the minimum wage or close to the minimum wage,” said Fast Food Forward campaign director Jonathan Westin. “There is no way they can afford rent, can afford many times to put food on the table or even afford the burgers they’re making.”

“Today we’re taking a stand – along with hundreds of other fast food workers – for a better future,” workers said in their nationwide email alert. “This morning, we walked off the job to demand higher wages and the right to form a union without intimidation. By standing together for our families and our communities, we can lift the entire economy and rebuild America’s middle class.

“Fast food workers are living in poverty without enough to meet our basic needs. Many of us rely on food stamps and some of us live in homeless shelters. Meanwhile, the $200 billion fast food industry continues to profit from our work without returning those profits to our communities and New York City’s economy.

“But worst of all, they think we can be ignored. Help us show that we’re not just ‘cheap labor,’ but men and women who want nothing more than to be treated with dignity and let to earn an honest living.”

The workers deliberately chose April 4 as their walkout day to invoke the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader was assassinated 45 years ago that day, in Memphis, Tenn., as he led sanitation workers there in their campaign for a living wage and the right to organize with AFSCME. Those workers eventually won.

Photo: Fast Food Forward Facebook page.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.