Workers from McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and other chain restaurants in New York City went on strike today for the second time in six months. Strike organizers are calling it the largest mass action of fast food workers ever: over 400 employees from 60 restaurants are refusing to work today, according to New York Communities for Change, the group spearheading the strike. They’re demanding benefits, $15 hourly wages—“We can’t survive on $7.25,” workers chanted at rallies in Brooklyn and Manhattan—and say they want a union.
Colorlines.com caught up with some of these striking workers this morning as they rallied in front of a Wendy’s on Fulton St. in downtown Brooklyn. Many held signs like those carried by Memphis sanitation workers in the 1968 strike championed by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I am a woman;” “I am a man.” Today marks 45 years since King was shot and killed while supporting that strike.
Shalema Simpson, 24
Brooklyn. Employer: Wendy’s
“I have a three-year-old and I’m not making enough money right now so I’m living with my grandfather and four other people in a one-bedroom apartment. I am supposed to be working inside there right now but I am out here instead. I’ve worked at McDonalds, Hale and Hearty, Shake Shack and they are all bad but right now this is the worst establishment. Sometimes our checks bounce. It’s too much. I don’t know if [the strike] will change anything but at least we’re being heard.”
Edwin Urene, 20
Brooklyn. Employer: McDonald’s
“I’ve worked there for six months and it’s not easy. An organizer came through in January and he said: ‘I’m from the union and this is what we want: higher pay, paid sick leave, vacation days, benefits.’ That sounded really good to me. I work in a job that a lot can happen—you can get burned, you can get hurt—but how am I going to pay for medical bills. I can’t even pay my regular bills.”
Rebecca Merceron, 19
Brooklyn. Employer: Wendy’s (until she quit 1 month ago)
“I used to work right here at this Wendy’s but it was too much for too little and I left. I’m here now to support the people who are still working there. I know them all. There are people who come after me and to change it we need to strike. And, you know, being here, it feels good, it feels like you’re doing something for the better.”
AnnMarie Wallace, 20
Brooklyn. Employer: Burger King
“I’ve been working here since I moved to New York from Jamaica. Sometimes I get just three days and that week I go home with $150. That is not livable. I have a daughter in the 5th grade. I want to be able to save money for her school. Mostly, I want it to be different for my daughter so she does’t get out of school and have to work in the same situation, for these wages in fast food. If we don’t do soemthing about this now, this is is how it’ll be for years to come, for future generations.”