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Fast food workers relentless in push for better conditions

Stephon Johnson | 5/22/2014, 12:44 p.m.

Fast food workers will not let you forget about their plight.

Last Thursday, fast food workers in New York City walked off their jobs as part of the nationwide protest that spread across 150 cities and 33 countries on six continents. In New York, workers want state lawmakers to allow individual cities in the state to set their own minimum wage, calling the current $8 per hour rate “inadequate.” Workers are calling for a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.

“McJobs are a drag on our economy,” said New York state Assemblyman and Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus Chair Karim Camara in a statement. “And that’s not going to change as long as tens of thousands of New Yorkers are waking up every day  to go to jobs in the $200 billion fast food industry that pay them $8 an hour.”

Naquasia LeGrand, a KFC worker, believes that the wind is behind the movement now.

“The momentum is there. The need is there,” LeGrand said in a statement. “It’s time for Albany to get off the sidelines and to start standing up for the 3 million low-wage New Yorkers who are working hard, playing by the rules, and still living in poverty. Otherwise, they’re just allowing the most profitable corporations on the planet, like McDonald’s, to pay their workers as little as possible. Our economy will never get back on track that way—and women and people of color, the majority of folks in these jobs, will never have an honest shot at the middle class.”

The legislation in Albany that workers are supporting—Raise Up NY (S6516/A9036)—is sponsored by state Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Camara. The bill, if passed, would allow cities and counties in New York State to set their own minimum wages. Activists have claimed that raising the minimum wage is lawmakers’ best attempt to reduce inequality and boost the local economy.

“I want to thank these brave workers taking action. New York’s minimum wage is embarrassingly low and more must be done,” said Stewart-Cousins in a statement. “We have to stand up for the working men and women of New York and allow local governments to increase the minimum wage.”

Fast food strikes nationwide have raised awareness of the plight of low-wage families and, in particular, women and people of color. The increase in jobs available in the low-wage sector have put fast food employees at the center of the income inequality debate.

“Fast food is driving much of the job growth at the low end, and the gains there are absolutely phenomenal,” said Michael Evangelist, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. “If this is the reality, if these jobs are here to stay and are going to be the core of our economy, we need to make them better by raising pay. ”

The fight continued earlier this week when New York City’s McDonald’s workers announced that they, along with workers from three dozen cities, will travel to the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Oak Brook, Ill., to rally for a $15 an hour wage increase and the right to form a union. They’ll be joined by community supporters, clergy members and elected officials.

“We’re taking our demands for $15 and a union from New York City to McDonald’s doorstep in Chicago because we want to let the company know that we’re real people with real responsibilities and that we’re not going away,” said McDonald’s employee Omar Freckleton in a statement. “I have a young daughter, and I don’t make enough to support her. It’s about giving her the life she deserves, about being able to pay for food, clothes and transportation every month. I work for a $5 billion company and I shouldn’t have to choose. It’s that simple.”