NYC Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (Dem) marching with fast food workers in New York City on December 5, 2013. (Photo/Eduardo Hoepelman)

Thousands of fast food workers around the country fight for more pay

Thousands of fast food workers and supporters, in 100 cities across the country, held rallies Thursday fighting for better pay. The national median wage for cooks, cashiers and crew at fast food restaurants is $8.94 an hour.

Workers went on strike from major national fast food restaurants, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s been one year since their first strike against the fast food industry asking for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.

As a result of last year’s walkouts, workers from dozens of cities across the United States began to get in touch via Facebook, LowPayIsNotOk.com and other related campaigns. Last week, more than 100 Walmart workers and supporters were arrested as thousands protested at 1500 stores nationwide on Black Friday, calling for the company to pay its workers $25,000 a year, provide full-time work and end illegal retaliation.

“I can’t believe how far we’ve come,” said KFC worker Naquasia LeGrand in a statement. “We started a year ago here in New York with workers from a couple dozen stores. Today there are thousands of workers, in 100 cities, all coming together to fight for wages that we can support our families on.”

A recent report by the University of California-Berkley found approximately half of fast food workers, including more than half of those who work more than forty hours per week, earn so little they are forced to rely on public assistance programs, costing taxpayers $7 billion per year.

“Today’s action says this is no longer acceptable,” said NY State Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa. “Today’s action reminds us that these are not unskilled but essential workers, and they have a right to be compensated as such.”

McDonald’s, one of the fast food restaurants in the $200 billion industry, offered a statement saying it respects the right of its workers to voice their opinion.

“To right-size the headlines, however, the events taking place are not strikes,” said Lisa McComb, spokesperson of McDonald’s USA. “Outside groups are traveling to McDonald’s and other outlets to stage rallies. Our restaurants remain open today -and every day – thanks to our dedicated employees serving our customers.”

She goes on to say the company is committed to providing its employees with opportunities to succeed.

“We offer employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits,” said McComb. “And we invest in training and professional development that helps them learn practical and transferable business skills.”

According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, an adult with one child needs to make $24.69 an hour in New York City, working full time, just to afford the basics.  In Tucson, the living wage is $19.10 and in Houston county, $17.64 an hour.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports 70 percent of fast food workers are in their 20’s, and more than one-quarter of fast food workers are raising at least one child.

Dunkin Donuts released a statement saying:

“Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants are owned and operated by individual franchisees who are responsible for making their own business decisions such as hours of operation, employee wages and the benefits they offer their employees. They are required to comply with all state, federal and local laws.”

New York City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who was at the rally in NYC today made up of approximately 150 workers and supporters, says change is coming.

“With today’s action, we are sending a clear message that the corporate-centric labor policies of the past 30 years will no longer cut it, because too many in this nation have seen their pay stagnate while their living costs perpetually rise,” said Rodriguez. “Today we say enough; today we say all workers must be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and have rightfully earned.”

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