Fast-Food Workers Continue to Rally for Living Wages

They're joined, this time, by workers from retail stores, car washes, and airports in demanding higher wages and the right to unionize

Workers behind Fast Food Forward, the coalition that had workers from 30 fast-food stores walk off their jobs last week, are now getting together for a rally today at 5 p.m., on 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue in New York City.

The movement for living wage, which is fighting for higher wages, better benefits, and the possibility of unionization, will be bringing together fast-food workers, car wash workers, and airport workers to ask for $15 an hour, instead of the minimum wage of $7.25.

"Right now it’s about workers getting together, having a voice, and voicing out what they need," New York Communities for Change senior organizer Harold Miller told us in a phone interview. "The need is living wages so they can get out of poverty so they can move out of homeless shelters so they can put their kids through school."

In a statement released last week, the National Restaurant Association claims that the majority of fast-food workers are not interested in unionization. "The industry offers great flexibility and as a result, the workforce, particularly in quickservice restaurants, is highly mobile and made up of mostly young, part-time employees that have been generally disinterested in paying union dues. We don’t expect that to change," NRA's executive vice president Scott DeFife said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the median age of fast-food workers are 28 years old; 66 percent are women, and of those women, the women are 32 years old on average. "The people we talk to every day are not trying to buy the latest video game or jeans," Miller said. "They’re trying to feed their families."

Fast Food Forward and other organizations aren't asking for an increase in minimum wage, however; "What we’re focused on is making the case that companies like McDonald's and Wendy's have the abilities to pay their workers a living wage," Miller said. "We’re not saying that the government should not doing anything, but we’re saying these corporations should be responsible and have living wages."

Even if this increases production costs and thus meal prices, Miller hopes people will be supportive. "When you have people who make more money and make our economy better overall, there will be less people dependant on food stamps, less people that drain government services because they cannot afford their basic needs," Miller said. "If that means we as consumers pay a little bit more so we can have a stronger local economy, I think people can be supportive of that."

Update: McDonald's has released a statement saying the corporation will "continue to dialogue on ways we can continuously improve and provide a positive work environment for all. The majority of McDonald’s restaurants in New York and across the country are owned and operated by independent business men and women — the majority of whom offer their employees competitive pay and access to tiered benefits that best meet their individual needs. These are complex, but important issues — to our employees, our franchisees and our company.” Yum Brands representatives were unavailable for comment.

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