Fast food workers stage surprise strike in New York City
Workers at more than 70 fast food chain restaurants planned a walkout for Thursday in what organizers are saying is the largest-ever protest of its kind. According to CNN Money, the coalition of striking workers includes employees of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, KFC and other major chains, as well as community and clergy groups dedicated to improving the lives of low-wage workers in the mostly non-unionized field of restaurant work.
Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, one of the main organizing groups behind the strike, told CNN that dozens of workers walked off the job at the Times Square McDonald’s and that the Flatbush Avenue Burger King in Brooklyn barely opened its doors on time Thursday morning due to the number of workers who are on strike.
The workers are asking for a minimum pay of $15 an hour and the right to organize and collectively bargain without fear of firing or retaliation. Currently, the median wage for fast food workers in New York City is $9 an hour, placing even full-time workers at an average income of $18,500 per year, well under the U.S. Census Bureau’s threshold for poverty-level income, $23,000 per year for a family of four.
Many workers are part time and receive no benefits. Some tell stories of having to skip meals in order to meet the expense of transportation to and from work. Workers who have participated in protests and attempted to organize in the past, however, say that they have faced retaliation in the form of reduced hours and pay cuts.
McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King declined to speak to CNN about the strikes. KFC representative Rick Maynard told the news organization, “Our restaurants in the area are franchise-owned.”
Cornell University labor advocate Kate Bronfenbrenner told Salon that the franchise structure undermines worker rights.
“The franchise structure makes it easier for McDonald’s or the other food chains to just cut a franchise loose and say they’re not responsible,” she said. While millions of people are employed by restaurant franchises, it’s the corporate headquarters, ultimately, that dictates labor policy, she said.
Strikers chose Thursday’s date because it marks the 45th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. King was there in support of striking sanitation workers when he was gunned down on a hotel balcony by right-wing gunman James Earl Ray.
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