Fast-Food Workers Go on Strike in New York City, Politicians, Christine Quinn, Union Back Up Effort for Higher Pay

Nov 29, 2012 01:05 PM EST | By Jessica Durham

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McDonald's offers employees tips on how to cope with issues like the upcoming holiday financial crunch. (Photo : Reuters)

Fast-food workers are fed-up with low wages and are now seeking higher pay for making burgers and dealing with unsatisfied customers.

According to the New York Times, workers at several restaurants in New York City walked off the job Thursday, triggering something experts say is "the biggest effort to unionize fast-food workers ever undertaken in the United States."

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Community and civil rights groups, religious leaders and a labor union back the effort to try to secure workers at McDonald's, Wendy's, Dominos, Taco Bell, and other fast-food places across the city.

Los Angeles Times reported that workers are demanding $15 an hour in pay, which is more than double the minimum wage some receive; it is now $7.25.

"What we're finding is that there's huge support among fast food workers to form a union and to fight back against the poverty wages that they're being paid," said Jonathan Westin, organizing director of New York Communities for Change, which is helping to organize the strike.

"Most workers are being paid minimum wage, they can't afford rent, they can't afford to put food on the table," he said. "Many people rely on public assistance to subsidize their wages."

This first walkout began at McDonald's on Madison Avenue at 6:30 a.m. where 14 mostly morning-shift workers refused to enter the building. Protesters moved to downtown Brooklyn, the Penn Station area, and Times Square.

"I'm just standing up for what is right," Darryl Young, 24, said. He was one of the McDonald's workers to walkout, getting paid only $7.25 an hour to be a cashier. But the Bronx resident said he is asked to do many more jobs like maintenance, manning the grill, and cleanup. He has a two-week-old daughter in a single household.

Raymond Lopez, 21, an aspiring actor who has worked at the McDonald's for more than two years, showed up on his day off to protest, according to the New York Times.

"In this job having a union would really be a dream come true," said Mr. Lopez, who added that he makes $8.75 an hour. He said that he, along with fellow fast-food workers, were under-compensated. "We don't get paid for what we do," he said. "It really is living in poverty."

"These jobs have extremely high turnover, so by the time you get around to organizing folks, they're not on the job anymore," said Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the City University of New York. There have been few efforts to unionize fast-food workers because of the challenge but the new effort might gain traction because it is taking place in New York, a city with deep union roots where many workers are sympathetic to unions, the New York Times wrote.

Politicians are getting into the effort. Councilmember Christine C. Quinn expressed her supper for fast-food workers.

"I support fast food restaurant workers' rights to organize and fight for decent wages,'' Quinn wrote in a Twitter message on Thursday morning. Hours after she wrote, "Working NYers deserve a #livingwage. I support the city's fast-food workers who are fighting for this on http://on.nyc.gov/V8t9mV  #FastFoodFwd."

Reports say that more walkouts are likely to come. 

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