By Adam Kerlin and Lisa Baertlein
NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES Nov 29 Fast-food
restaurant employees, many of whom work for minimum wage,
protested in New York City on Thursday demanding higher pay and
the right to form a union as part of a movement called "Fast
The campaign seeks to roughly double hourly pay to $15 an
hour. It is being billed as the largest attempt to unionize
fast-food workers in the United States, where the minimum wage
is $7.25 per hour.
Leading the effort is New York Communities for Change
(NYCC), a group that has helped organize low-wage carwash and
grocery workers in New York.
The nearly $200 billion U.S. fast-food industry long has
been known for low-paying jobs that have largely been filled by
teenagers and students. But since the recession, many adults are
competing fo r these positions.
"People just can't find decent wage jobs," said Jonathan
Westin, organizing director for NYCC. "The floor needs to be
raised for everybody."
A week ago, OUR Walmart, a union-backed coalition of current
and former Wal-Mart Stores Inc workers seeking better
wages, benefits and working conditions, picketed several Walmart
stores in the United States at the start of the holiday shopping
Strikes were scheduled for Thursday at McDonald's, Burger
King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza
restaurants around the city.
All but three of 17 employees due to work the morning shift
at a Midtown Manhattan McDonald's restaurant near Grand Central
Station walked off the job early on Thursday, organizers said.
In the afternoon, some of them joined about 30 people in
front of a Burger King restaurant on West 34th Street where they
chanted, "Si se puede" ("Yes we can") and "We can't survive on
McDonald's Corp, the world's biggest fast-food chain
by sales, said in a statement, "The majority of McDonald's
restaurants are owned and operated by independent business men
and women who offer pay and benefits competitive within the
quick service restaurant industry."
NYCC was expecting hundreds of workers at dozens of
restaurants to take part in the actions.
Joshua Williams, 28, has been paid $7.25 an hour for the one
year-plus that he has worked at a Wendy's in downtown Brooklyn.
He hopes the protests will help fast-food workers earn enough to
pay rent and buy necessities like food and clothing.
"We're asking for basic needs," said Williams, who works 30
to 40 hours a week and believes large fast-food companies can
afford to pay workers more.
Aristides Burgos, 38, who has worked at a McDonald's near
Manhattan's Rockefeller Center for three months, said his
take-home pay is not enough for the "most essential" items that
he, his girlfriend and his stepson need.
"It's worse than school," Burgos said. "You can have 100
percent attendance and do a good job and we get nothing for it.
At least you get a certificate for doing that in school.
Everyone knows it's really hard to get a raise where I work."
SOURCE OF JOBS
The National Restaurant Association (NRA), the industry's
trade group, said restaurants including fast-food outlets are a
vital source of jobs in a sluggish economy.
A Domino's Pizza Inc spokesman said its employees
receive hourly wages in addition to tips, "so our compensation
system isn't necessarily an 'apples to apples' comparison to
Representatives from Wendy's Co, Burger King
Worldwide Inc and Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut parent
Yum Brands Inc did not immediately respond to requests
The campaign's backers include UnitedNY.org, the Service
Employees International Union, which bills itself as the
fastest-growing labor organization in North America, and the
Black Institute, NYCC's Westin said.
New York City Comptroller John Liu called the campaign "a
fight that matters to us all." Liu said wages of many fast-food
workers are so low they have to rely on public assistance
ranging from food stamps to government-paid health care.
Supporters of the action said fast-food chains, which reap
big profits and offer hefty compensation to senior executives,
can afford to raise wages for front-line employees.
McDonald's reported a profit of $5.50 billion last year.
Yum, which gets well over half of its profits overseas, had net
income of $1.32 billion for 2011.
Richard Adams, a former McDonald's franchise director and
restaurant owner who now advises the company's franchisees, said
raising pay to $15 per hour would be an "insane increase" that
would add at least $1 to $2 to the cost of a fast-food sandwich.
"There goes the Dollar Menu," Adams said, referring to
McDonald's low-priced selections.