Bill Perkins and fast food workers (172716)

Fast-food workers across the country wanted to let politicians and citizens know that they’re not going to be quiet this election season.

One year away from Election Day 2016, fast-food workers across the United States staged one of the biggest strikes ever as they walked off the job. Spanning 270 cities nationwide, the New York City walkout made its way to Brooklyn, Midtown Manhattan and Harlem. Workers spanned all major corporations, from Burger King to McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Papa John’s. New York’s day of unrest culminated in a Tuesday afternoon rally in Foley Square in lower Manhattan.

Workers are demanding a $15 an hour “living wage” and better benefits and working conditions.

A Tuesday filled with rain and gray skies didn’t stop workers from rallying outside a McDonald’s on 125th Street (across the street from the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building). Workers from several fast-food giants, as well as a student worker at Columbia University, spoke on the desire for a $15 an hour salary, citing the billions of dollars in profits these companies make annually. Some of the workers spoke with the AmNews.

Jumal Tarber, 37, has worked at the McDonald’s on 56th Street and Eighth Avenue for three years.

“I have to choose between transportation and food,” said Tarber while holding an umbrella over his head. “We definitely need a union, because a union would protect us from any repercussions, because the money is going up every year but days and hours are being cut.”

In September, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the State Labor Commissioner had approved the Fast Food Wage Board’s recommendation of a $15 an hour minimum wage. He also said he’d try and persuade legislators in Albany to extend the $15 an hour minimum wage to all workers in New York.

Shantal Walker has been an on-and-off employee at Papa John’s since 1999 and has attended nine different strikes since the Fight for $15 movement began. “When I started working at Papa John’s, I was only making $5.15, and over 10 years later, it hasn’t changed that much and I know that’s wrong,” Walker told the AmNews. New York’s minimum wage has steadily increased the past several years, with the current minimum wage at $8.75. It’s slated to rise to $9 an hour Dec. 31.

It wasn’t just workers and activists who attended these rallies, local elected officials and advocacy groups also spoke on the living wage movement and its progress.

“The Fight for $15 is a real response to a deepening crisis,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in a statement. “Though many think the recession is fading into the past, the bottom line is that real wages continue to decline for workers, especially those in the lowest paid occupations.”

Owens was also quick to point out that a full-time worker making $15 an hour earns close to $30,000 a year, which is barely enough to support a family in any part of the country. She also wanted to remind the country that workers who earn less than $15 an hour are disproportionately women and people of color.

Although New York Sen. Bill Perkins attended, he didn’t speak at the Harlem rally. However, he released a public statement expressing his support for the movement and hoped that the movement would spread into housing, education and other forms of empowerment for America’s vulnerable.

“I am in complete support of and in solidarity with the ‘Fight for $15’ movement—including Governor Cuomo, who has recently embraced our viewpoint,” said Perkins. “However, I view it as our next step—and an intermediary step at that—on the road to fundamental fairness in terms of a true living wage and related benefit enhancements that will allow every single individual and family to thrive, especially in places like New York City, where the cost of living is so steep.”

In a case of perfect timing, Cuomo announced Tuesday that his administration will steadily raise the minimum wage for state workers to $15 an hour by 2021. “I believe that if you work hard and work full time, you should not be condemned to live in poverty,” said Cuomo in a statement. “Yet millions of families nationwide continue to be left behind by an insufficient minimum wage—and it’s time that changed. Today in New York, we are leading by example and creating an economy that is defined by opportunity, not inequality. We are restoring the fairness and economic justice that built the American dream and standing up for what’s right.”

Out in Brooklyn, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined protesters and channeled his pre-mayor days, reminding the crowd of the economic divide in the five boroughs.

“I remember how many people said $15 an hour was out of reach, that you were just dreamers,” said de Blasio. “You were trying to do something that couldn’t be done, but you know what you did—you changed things. You took the impossible and you made it possible—$15, think about it for a moment, $15 for a family to live on.

“In this city, we have well over a million people who don’t make $15 an hour—a million people trying to struggle to get by. And this movement shined a light on that reality and said we’re not going to go on like that. We are not going to live a tale of two cities.”

Workers outside of the Harlem McDonald’s and workers around the country rallied Tuesday in the hopes that the tale changes soon.

“It makes me proud that I’m standing up for something important,” Tarber told the AmNews. “You gotta stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. And I’m not falling for anything.”