The Salt
6:27 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

NYC's Fast-Food Workers Strike, Demand 'Living Wages'

Originally published on Thu April 4, 2013 8:20 pm

Fast-food restaurants were a little bit slower Thursday in New York City. Hundreds of workers staged a one-day strike in what organizers are calling the biggest job action ever in that industry. It's a growing segment of the economy, but workers complain that fast-food jobs don't pay enough to survive in New York City.

The current minimum wage in New York is $7.25. That's what many fast-food workers in the city earn, including Joseph Barrera, who works at a KFC restaurant in Brooklyn. He thinks fast-food companies can afford to treat their employees better.

"We help them earn those billions of dollars that give them the lifestyle that the CEOs get. They earn million-dollar paychecks, so why can't they give us something that we can live on?" says Barrera.

This is the second time workers at fast-food restaurants around the city have walked off the job in the past six months.

Jonathan Westin is a campaign manager for Fast Food Forward, the group that organized both strikes. It's calling for fast food restaurants to pay a so-called living wage of $15 an hour.

"It's not teenagers working after-school jobs," says Westin. "It's adults with families that are trying to take care of their kids and can't put food on the table. They can work here for 10, 15 years and still be making the same wages as when they started."

Shenise Hendricks and Lourdy Eferance have both worked at a Wendy's restaurant in Brooklyn for four years. Hendricks is paid $8 an hour and Eferance is paid $7.50 an hour. They say that it's a struggle to live in New York on this salary.

And Wendy's isn't an easy place to work, says Hendricks. For example, if she tries to call in sick to work, she gets written up.

Wendy's declined to comment for this story. In fact, none of the fast-food companies we called wanted to be interviewed.

In a statement, a spokesman for Burger King says the company has provided "an entry point into the work-force for millions of Americans," including many who went on to be franchise owners.

The National Restaurant Association says the industry provides more than 13 million jobs — jobs that could be jeopardized if the minimum wage goes up. In a statement, the association says the industry is "one of the best paths to achieving the American Dream."

But that dream remains out of reach for people like Gregory Renoso, who makes minimum wage as a deliveryman for Domino's Pizza. "People like me, we don't have education to get a better job," says Renoso. "We have to do the fast-food industry. But the fast-food industry [doesn't] pay."

According to strike organizer Westin, the fast-food industry is one of the few sectors of the economy that are growing quickly. Tens of thousands of fast-food workers are employed in New York alone.

"Folks can't just move on to other jobs," says Westin. "If they could, they probably would have, because the conditions are so bad. The problem is, these are the jobs that are out there. There's really nowhere to go." And while corporations are recovering, the working class is not, he adds.

New York's minimum wage is already set to rise to $9 an hour over the next three years. But according to Westin, that change will be too little, too late for many of those who are striking today.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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Some fast-food restaurants were a little bit slower today in New York City. Hundreds of workers staged a one-day strike in what organizers are calling the biggest job action ever in that industry. It's a growing segment of the economy. But workers complain that fast-food jobs don't pay enough for survival in New York City.

Here's NPR's Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: It was a different kind of lunchtime rush at a Wendy's restaurant in downtown Brooklyn. The crowd that gathered on the sidewalk did not come to eat.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: We testify for 7.25. We testify for 7.25. We testify for 7.25.

ROSE: 7.25, as in $7.25 an hour, that's the current minimum wage in New York, and that's what many fast-food workers in the city earn, including Joseph Barrera, who works at a KFC restaurant in Brooklyn. He thinks fast-food companies can afford to treat their employees better.

JOSEPH BARRERA: We help them earn those billions of dollars that give them, you know, the lifestyle that the CEOs get. You know, they earn million-dollar paychecks, so why can't they, you know, give us something that we can live on?

ROSE: This is the second time workers at fast-food restaurants around the city have walked off the job in the past six months. Jonathan Westin is a campaign manager for Fast Food Forward, the group that organized both strikes. It's calling for fast-food restaurants to pay a so-called living wage of $15 an hour.

JONATHAN WESTIN: It's not teenagers working after-school jobs. It's, you know, adults with families that are trying to take care of their kids and can't, you know, put food on the table. And, you know, they can work here for 10, 15 years and still be making the same wages as when they started.

SHENISE HENDRICKS: I get paid $8.

LOURDY EFERANCE: And I get paid 7.50.

ROSE: Is that enough to live in New York?

HENDRICKS: No. We struggle. We live paycheck to paycheck.

ROSE: Shenise Hendricks and Lourdy Eferance have both been at this Wendy's in Brooklyn for four years and say it is not an easy place to work.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: If we're sick and we want to call out, they'll write us up. We have to come to work. They talk to you any kind of way. They don't have respect. Like, if you're going to treat us this bad, at least pay us enough, but they don't even do that.

ROSE: Wendy's declined to comment for this story, and none of the fast-food companies we called wanted to be interviewed. In a statement, a spokesman for Burger King says the company has provided, quote, "an entry point into the workforce for millions of Americans," unquote, including many who went on to be franchise owners. The National Restaurant Association says the industry provides more than 13 million jobs - jobs that could be jeopardized if the minimum wage goes up.

In a statement, the association says the industry is, quote, "one of the best paths to achieving the American dream," unquote. But that dream remains out of reach, says Gregory Renoso, who makes minimum wage as a delivery man for Domino's Pizza.

GREGORY RENOSO: People like me, we don't have really, like, an education to get a better job. So we have to do, like, the fast-food industry, but the fast-food industry didn't pay.

ROSE: Strike organizer Jonathan Westin says the fast-food industry is one of the few sectors of the economy that's growing quickly and that it employs tens of thousands of workers in New York alone.

WESTIN: Folks can't just move on to other jobs. If they could, they probably would have because the conditions are so bad. The problem is these are the jobs that are out there. There's really nowhere to go. I mean, I think what we see is, you know, corporations are recovering, but the working class is not.

ROSE: New York's minimum wage is already set to rise to $9 an hour over the next three years, but Westin says that change will be too little, too late for many of those who are striking today. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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