Activists let their voices be heard on wage raise

Stephon Johnson | 6/18/2015, 12:58 p.m.
Lining up and ready to raise hell, hundreds of fast-food employees gathered outside of the second public hearing of New ...

Lining up and ready to raise hell, hundreds of fast-food employees gathered outside of the second public hearing of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s wage board Monday. Workers are pushing for a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.

“The wage board has the power to do what McDonald's hasn’t been willing to do on their own—ensure I’m paid enough so I don’t have to rely on food stamps or Medicaid,” said Jorel Ware, a 31-year-old South Bronx-based McDonald’s worker, in a statement. “With the little we make right now, there’s just no other way to make ends meet. $15 an hour will mean we can get off public assistance and stand on our own two feet.”

Across the country, the Fight for $15 has made its mark. Los Angeles recently approved a wage increase along with San Francisco and Seattle. Workers hope New York does the same. Mayor Bill de Blasio, in testimony submitted to the wage board, agrees.

“There’s nothing unreasonable about demanding a wage you can live on,” said de Blasio. “And in New York City, $8.75 is not a wage many can live on, and certainly not a wage that anyone can raise a family on. My administration is squarely focused on addressing the income inequality crisis in our city and providing more opportunities for every New Yorker.”

According to a report by the National Employment Law Project, fast-food jobs have increased by 57 percent between 2000 and 2014. During the same stretch, private sector jobs increased only 7 percent. Nationally, 52 percent of fast-food workers have at least one family member on food stamps, Medicaid or other social services—higher than any other industry. All of this usually costs taxpayers $7 billion in public assistance nationwide. New York taxpayers, in particular, subsidize fast-food corporations by paying $700 million a year in public assistance to fast-food workers.

“We are here today with the hard-working men and women in New York’s fast-food industry to tell the wage board that they need a $15 minimum wage,” stated 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. “32BJ members know how a family-sustaining wage can change a person’s life, and a $15 fast-food minimum wage in New York will change 180,000 lives and families.

“A few years ago, the fast-food workers’ campaign for $15 and a union was seen as pie-in-the-sky, but Seattle, San Francisco and San Jose have already heeded the call for $15—and momentum is growing,” continued Figueroa. “Now it’s time for New York to make history by being the first state to adopt a $15 mandate for fast-food workers.”