News / USA

New York Fast-Food Workers Turn Up Heat On Pay Demands

A coalition of groups rally in front of a McDonald's on East 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Harlem during a protest by fast food workers and supporters for higher wages in New York, Apr. 4, 2013.
A coalition of groups rally in front of a McDonald's on East 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Harlem during a protest by fast food workers and supporters for higher wages in New York, Apr. 4, 2013.
Reuters
Hundreds of fast-food restaurant workers in New York City turned out for protests on Thursday in what organizers said would be their largest rally yet for better pay.

Employees from familiar chains such as McDonald's Corp , Burger King and Yum Inc's KFC are seeking to roughly double their hourly wage to $15. They also say they want the right to form a union without interference.

Winning such concessions will be an uphill battle. Low-wage, low-skill workers lack political clout and face significantly higher unemployment than college graduates.

"It's a long fight. We have to stick together if we're going to have a chance," said Joseph Barrera, 22, who has worked at a Brooklyn KFC restaurant for the past 10 months.

Organizers estimated that there are 50,000 fast-food workers in New York City who earn $10,000 to $18,000 per year

Events kicked off at a McDonald's in midtown Manhattan, where roughly 100 people - including supporters bused in from Washington, DC - rallied. Roughly the same number of protesters clogged the entrance of a Wendy's restaurant near Penn Station at noon.

As many as 400 workers from more than five dozen restaurants around New York City have committed to turn out for protests planned at various locations throughout the day, said Jonathan Westin, director of Fast Food Forward, which organized Thursday's actions and is backed by labor, community and religious groups.

That turnout would be twice as large as in November, when the city's fast-food workers also walked off the job, Westin said.

"It's going to be difficult for these businesses to operate this time," said Westin.

That claim was in dispute, though. Protesters said their walk-out prevented a Burger King restaurant in Brooklyn from opening, but the company said it was only delayed 15 minutes.

Flipping and Frying

The nearly $200 billion U.S. fast-food industry long has been known as an employer of teenagers and students.

But the 18-month "Great Recession" that began in December 2007 forced more adults to seek part-time, largely minimum wage work flipping burgers and manning fryers.

Burger King and McDonald's said in statements to Reuters that most restaurants in their chains are independently owned and operated, and offer compensation consistent with industry standards.

U.S. President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage in his State of the Union address as a way to help lift some workers out of poverty. Critics, including the restaurant industry, say such a move would kill jobs by burdening small businesses with higher costs.

The state of New York recently passed a budget that includes plans to raise the state minimum wage to $9 an hour by the end of 2015.

But even with that hike, New York's minimum wage would remain below the roughly $11 hourly pay needed to lift a family of four above the poverty line.

"Anywhere where the cost of living is very, very high, $9 is not enough. Everyone should be able to make a living wage," said Barrera, who is paid the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

You May Like

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

At Boston Bombing Hearing, Sides Spar Over Boat

At final pre-trial hearing, lawyers for suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, prosecutors disagree on whether vessel where he hid from police can be shown to jurors More

Iran Judiciary 'Picks' Lawyer for Detained WP Reporter

Masoud Shafii has been attempting to secure official recognition as Rezaian’s attorney, but is not allowed to see his client in prison More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More