Fast food companies offer low wages and limited hours. Most don’t offer benefits to employees, and job security is low. In spite of all of this, the fast food industry is nearly union-free, and walk-outs and protests are rare. However, at 6:30 a.m. this Thursday, on November 29th, New York City workers from dozens of stores joined together for a one-day strike. Workers came from McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s, KFC, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Papa John’s, with the majority of protesters being workers from McDonald’s. According to The New York Times, more than 200 fast food workers went on strike throughout the city.
Their primary complaint is clear: money.
In an interview with Salon, McDonald’s employee Raymond Lopez said:
“They’re not paying us enough to survive. This company has enough money to pay us a reasonable amount for all that we do … they’re just not going to give it to us as long as they can get away with it. I think we need to be heard.”
Lopez has worked for McDonald’s for two years and makes $8.75 per hour as a shift manager. To supplement his McDonald’s income, he works two other jobs so that he can pay off student loans and help support his family. Lopez said that the company expects everything employees do to be fast and perfect, but perfection is a challenge.
“When you’re actually there for eight hours smiling like you’re on the Miss Universe contest, it’s not easy.”
He claims that the company requires supervisors to “work off the clock all of the time” and verbal abuse is rampant. Managers even regulate the expressions on employee’s faces. Lopez isn’t sure what to expect from the strike but he remains optimistic and realizes that it’s not going to happen overnight.
Jonathan Westin, the organizing director for New York Communities for Change, said that this is “the biggest organizing campaign that’s happened in the fast food industry.” An NYCC team has been meeting with workers for several months to spearhead efforts to create a new union: the Fast Food Workers Committee. Workers will demand the right to organize a union without retaliation and wages up to $15 per hour.
Forbes lists fast food employees as the lowest paid workers in the workforce. This is confirmed by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, where data shows that ”Combined Food Service and Preparation Workers, Including Fast Food” jobs are the lowest paying jobs in New York City. By contrast, the National Employment Law Project shows that McDonald’s profits have grown by 130 percent in the last four years.
Organizers claim that McDonald’s has already retaliated. Jose Cerillo, a 79 year old employee who cleans tables and floors, was suspended on Monday after signing up fellow co-workers for the petition. He was told that he violated a “no solicitation” policy, although he asserted that he was circulating the petition during breaks and after work. He has worked for McDonald’s since 1996 and makes $7.40 per hour. But he is newly rejuvenated and stated that he’s excited about being a part of this movement.
“I feel happy, and I want to fight more … I want to do something worthwhile.”
For more information, or to sign a petition, visit Fast Food Forward, an initiative supported by various community organizations, including New York Communities for Change, United NY.org, the Black Institute, and the Service Employees International Union.