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Fast-food workers hope management gets the picture during protest

Stephon Johnson | 12/12/2013, 2:51 p.m.
Fast food workers fight for living wages to be put on the menu

Last Thursday, fast-food workers reminded New York City and the country at large that minimum wage isn’t going to cut it.

Across the nation, fast-food workers walked off their jobs and rallied in favor of a living wage along with benefits like health insurance. In Manhattan, workers gathered at Foley Square then marched down to Zuccotti Park to demonstrate how serious they were about their fight for better wages in the economy’s new normal.

The rally at Foley Square was organized by the New Day New York Coalition, which is a new coalition made up of community groups, faith-based organizations, labor unions and Occupy Wall Street veterans that is collectively focused on the issue of economic justice. The coalition includes 32BJ SEIU, Communications Workers of America, Restaurant Opportunities Center of NY, Walmart Free NYC, Community Voices Heard, New York Communities for Change, Center for Popular Democracy, Strong Economy for All Coalition and United NY.

Fast-food workers may have had the headlines, but the signs held by protesters showed that that they weren’t the only workforce on the minds of attendees. Lit up signs that resembled the children’s toy Lite-Brite displayed words like “Women,” “Workers,” “Teachers” and “All of Us.” And for those who didn’t notice that, 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa reminded them when he spoke at Foley Square.

“Are you ready to fight with the airport workers? Are you ready to fight with the car washers? Are you ready to fight with the fast-food workers? Are you ready to fight with the teachers?” Figueroa asked the crowd, receiving a resounding yes every time.

“This is about workers who are looking to make it in this city,” continued Figueroa. “We need a new day. The time has come. We need to change the rules that have been imposed on us. It is a shame when we talk about a recovery, and yet 50 percent of working people are eligible for food stamps.”

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry spoke as well and said that despite fast-food protests going on around the nation, all eyes were on New York.

“I come on behalf of the workers all across this country who count on the workers of New York to show this nation that it is possible–when workers join hands together and have the courage to walk out or bargain–that we can lift wages in this nation again and create the next American middle class,” said Henry.

Fast food is a $200 billion a year industry, but many of its service workers earn just above minimum wage at the most and usually have to rely on public assistance programs for things like basic health care for their families. In the United States, the median wage for cooks, cashiers and crew members at fast-food restaurants is $8.94 an hour. In the five boroughs, there are 55,000 fast-food workers, and most of them reportedly earn the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage. According to a wage calculator created by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an adult with one child needs to make $24.69 an hour working full-time in New York City to afford the basics.