By Lisa Baertlein
April 4 Hundreds of fast-food restaurant workers
in New York City turned out for protests on Thursday in what
organizers said would be their largest rally yet for better pay.
Employees from familiar chains such as McDonald's Corp
, Burger King and Yum Inc's KFC are
seeking to roughly double their hourly wage to $15. They also
say they want the right to form a union without interference.
Winning such concessions will be an uphill battle. Low-wage,
low-skill workers lack political clout and face significantly
higher unemployment than college graduates.
"It's a long fight. We have to stick together if we're going
to have a chance," said Joseph Barrera, 22, who has worked at a
Brooklyn KFC restaurant for the past 10 months.
Organizers estimated that there are 50,000 fast-food workers
in New York City who earn $10,000 to $18,000 per year
Events kicked off at a McDonald's in midtown Manhattan,
where roughly 100 people - including supporters bused in from
Washington, DC - rallied. Roughly the same number of protesters
clogged the entrance of a Wendy's restaurant near Penn Station
As many as 400 workers from more than five dozen restaurants
around New York City have committed to turn out for protests
planned at various locations throughout the day, said Jonathan
Westin, director of Fast Food Forward, which organized
Thursday's actions and is backed by labor, community and
That turnout would be twice as large as in November, when
the city's fast-food workers also walked off the job, Westin
"It's going to be difficult for these businesses to operate
this time," said Westin.
That claim was in dispute, though. Protesters said their
walk-out prevented a Burger King restaurant in Brooklyn from
opening, but the company said it was only delayed 15 minutes.
FLIPPING AND FRYING
The nearly $200 billion U.S. fast-food industry long has
been known as an employer of teenagers and students.
But the 18-month "Great Recession" that began in December
2007 forced more adults to seek part-time, largely minimum wage
work flipping burgers and manning fryers.
Burger King and McDonald's said in statements to Reuters
that most restaurants in their chains are independently owned
and operated, and offer compensation consistent with industry
U.S. President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal
minimum wage in his State of the Union address as a way to help
lift some workers out of poverty. Critics, including the
restaurant industry, say such a move would kill jobs by
burdening small businesses with higher costs.
The state of New York recently passed a budget that includes
plans to raise the state minimum wage to $9 an hour by the end
But even with that hike, New York's minimum wage would
remain below the roughly $11 hourly pay needed to lift a family
of four above the poverty line.
"Anywhere where the cost of living is very, very high, $9 is
not enough. Everyone should be able to make a living wage," said
Barrera, who is paid the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.