Workers from chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC rallied at a McDonald’s restaurant in midtown Manhattan and a Wendy’s near Penn Station.
Most of them earn the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but they are seeking to double their hourly earnings to $15. They also want the right to form a union without interference.
Organizers know that’s going to be a difficult battle for the estimated 50,000 fast-food workers in New York City, who earn from $10,000 to $18,000 per year.
“It’s a long fight. We have to stick together if we’re going to have a chance,” Joseph Barrera, 22, who has worked at a Brooklyn KFC restaurant for the past 10 months, told Reuters.
While the nearly $200 billion U.S. fast-food industry has traditionally been seen as an employer of teenagers and students, the recession changed that in recent years, pushing more adults into the minimum-wage workforce.
In a statement to Reuters, Burger King and McDonald’s said most restaurants in their chains are independently owned and operated, and offer compensation consistent with industry standards.
The job action took place on the anniversary of the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he was fighting for higher wages for Memphis sanitation workers.
The Rev. Cheri Kroon, associate minister of the Flatbush Reform Church in Brooklyn, said the fast-food workers’ rally continued King’s fight against economic injustice.
“My community in Flatbush is filled with fast-food workers who have been suffering due to low wages, no sick days and unsafe working conditions,” she told the New York Times.
President Obama has proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour, while 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 the workers say $9 an hour isn’t enough. They would need at least $11 an hour to lift a family of four above the poverty line.
Gregory Reynoso, a driver for a Domino’s restaurant in Brooklyn, says he’s still earning $7.25 an hour after a year and a half on the job. “It’s impossible to support a family on $7.25 an hour,” said Reynoso, 26, who lives with his 3-year-old daughter and his wife, a part-time employee at Macy’s department store. “We’re just surviving.”
Tabitha Verges, 29, a minimum-wage worker at a Burger King in Harlem, insists that she deserves $15 an hour, saying it is nearly impossible to live in New York on her weekly paycheck of $122 for working 25 hours a week.
“I’m behind on paying my cable and Con Ed bills,” Verges told the New York Times. “I don’t think $15 an hour is asking too much. I do it all. I do three or four jobs. I take orders, I make the orders. I work the cash register. I say, ‘Have a good day.’ I do the inventory. I take out the trash. I get down and scrub the floor. I don’t think $7.25 is nearly enough.”