Moral Low Ground


Fast Food Workers Stage 1-Day Strike in New York City

Hundreds of mostly low-wage fast-food workers launched a one-day strike in New York City on Monday, demanding better pay, the right to unionize and an end to what many of them call “abusive labor practices.”

CBS News reports employees of McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Wendy’s throughout New York staged the one-day walkout. The protesters are calling for a living wage of $15/hour– more than double the current minimum wage of $7.25/hour. Many of the demonstrators participated in chants like, “hold the burger, hold the fries, make our wages super-sized,” and carried placards with slogans including, “minimum wage is poverty.”

“I want for us to be respected– $7.25 is not enough,” 27-year-old McDonald’s worker Lisette Ortiz told the New York Daily News. “I live with my dad,” the Rockaway, Queens resident added. “I would like to get my own apartment. You can’t! It’s impossible!”

“It’s noisy, it’s really hot, fast they rush you,” Nathalia Sepulveda, who works at a McDonald’s near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, told CBS News. “Sometimes you don’t even get breaks. All for $7.25? It’s crazy.”

Similar complaints were heard throughout the day at the various demonstrations around the city.

“I can’t even order something off the menu with what I earn,” Ashley Pinkney, who works at a McDonald’s in Times Square, told CBS News. “It makes me wonder what I’m even doing here.”

“I live with my grandma, my aunt, and cousin. I can’t even afford privacy,” 22-year-old KFC employee Naquasia LeGrand of Brooklyn told the Daily News. “I’m a cashier. I cook, prep, clean– I do it all. It’s just not enough, $7.25, not when milk and eggs are going up!”

Not to mention rent– according to Curbed, the average Manhattan apartment now rents for a staggering $3,951 a month. Citywide, average rents are currently running over $3,000 a month.

According to the Living Wage Project, a single adult required at least $12.75/hour to get by in the city. Add a child and that wage would have to be at least $24.69. CBS News reports that a similar living wage for a single adult in Chicago would be $10.48/hour; in Flint, Michigan it would be $8.57/hour.

Making matters worse is the fact that many fast-food restaurants limit employee hours to just under 40 per week to avoid having to provide the health care and other benefits legally mandated for full-time workers.

Jonathan Westin, director of the Fast Food Forward campaign, told CBS News that paying fast-food workers decent wages made good economic sense.

“The workers’ actions will lift up all of New York City,” he said. “If they have more money in their pockets, they’ll spend it right here, helping to boost the entire economy.”

But representatives of the fast-food industry asserted that raising wages would have a detrimental effect on corporations’ ability to hire new employees.

Doubling the minimum wage would have a “significant effect on the private sector’s ability to create jobs, especially those typically filled by first-time workers and teens,” Scott DeFefife, a spokesman for the industry lobby group National Restaurant Association, told CBS News.

In 2011, then-McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner earned $8.75 million in compensation. His income was about 583 times what a McDonald’s employee working full-time, 40 hours per week with no vacations at all, would earn in a year. To put it another way, according to Bloomberg Business Week, the average McDonald’s employee would have to work one million hours, or roughly 114 years, to earn what the company CEO makes in a year.

While McDonald’s profits have soared by more than 135 percent in recent years, and while the company has paid a whopping $6 billion in dividends and stock buybacks in the last fiscal year, employee wages have all but stagnated. One Illinois McDonald’s worker who has been with the company for 20 years, for example, is still earning minimum wage.

McDonald’s recently raised eyebrows and ire when it teamed up with Visa to publish a sample budget for employees that implicitly acknowledged that McDonald’s employees cannot survive by working just one job, even full-time.

The striking workers were joined by local politicians and community leaders who cited the fast-food industry’s vast wealth as evidence it could pay its workers more. US Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said the fact that the industry is worth $200 billion a year, but that many of its workers were dependent on government aid such as food stamps and Medicaid, is “disgusting.”

Partly due to low wages paid to workers in sectors like the fast-food industry, one out of every six Americans, or more than 46 million individuals, is living in poverty today.

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