On the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, over 400 fast-food employees staged a daylong walkout to support a living wage. Last Thursday’s strike was the largest fast-food strike in America’s history.
Thirty elected officials, community leaders and clergy called stores, urging the fast-food chains to welcome the workers back to their regular scheduled assignments the next day. It looks like the message reached the ears of management.
“The effort by the workers and all of the groups that have supported their struggle for higher wages and better working conditions has been outstanding,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “It is our responsibility as representatives of these workers around the city to ensure their needs are met and that they are treated with the dignity and respect they have earned. This morning was just another step in the process, as we hope to see the fast-food industry do the right thing and support their employees.”
The fast-food workers helped organize their walkout along with labor and grassroots organizations like United New York, Make the Road, La Fuente, Strong For All, the Black Institute, the New York City Central Labor Council and Communications Workers of America.
Fast-food workers came together to fight for a $15-an-hour salary and the right to form a union. With the fast-food industry raking in about $200 billion annually, many fast-food workers feel like they should earn more than a minimum wage and shouldn’t have to rely on public assistance programs to get access to health care. Called “Fast Food Forward,” employees from places like McDonald’s, Burger King, Papa John’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, Wendy’s and Domino’s want to join the Fast Food Workers Committee and acquire a wage that would allow them to survive in New York City.
Some workers have already faced retaliation for attempting to form a union. Regardless, the Rev. Cheri Kroon of the Flatbush Reformed Church said that the staged walkouts were necessary to bring attention to the cause of workers’ rights for fast- food employees.
“We are here standing in solidarity with these workers today as they fight to improve the quality of life for workers around the city,” said Kroon. “Yesterday’s walkouts and today’s walk-backs are the embodiment of their rights under the law. All workers deserve fair wages and the ability to fight for their rights. They have our support in this fight.”
Saavedra Jantuah, a 23-year-old McDonald’s employee from the Bronx, appreciated the teamwork and effort from allies.
“We’re grateful to have the support of the community,” said Jantuah. “Today, we’re back on the job, but our work is just beginning. No one who works for a multibillion-dollar industry should have to rely on public assistance just to get by.”
Minister Danny Diaz of the Micah Institute at the New York Theological Seminary stated that the campaign is about more than money. He said it’s also about edifying the workers and the neighborhoods they reside in.
“It’s also about strengthening our neighborhoods and the city’s consumer-driven economy. When corporations decide to pad profits by shortchanging their employees, our communities pay the price,” said Diaz.