Lining the sidewalks of the block of Nassau Street between Fulton and John, fast food workers, community supporters, and labor organizers protested against unfair wages and lack of job protections. With chants of “hey hey, ho ho, the poverty wage has got to go” and “workers united, will never be defeated,” dozens of people stood outside the Wendy’s at 85 Nassau Street in the Financial District.
The demands are simple: Raise wages from minimum wage to $15 an hour, and permit fast food workers to form unions without interference or intimidation from employers.
Tyeisha Batts, 27, has worked at the Burger King on Fulton Street for the last four months. She began working to increase pay for workers at the fast food joint just a week after starting there.
Batts has her hours capped at 28 a week, classifying her as part-time so that Burger King does not have to provide benefits. She makes roughly $150 a week.
“Only four of us are out here,” she tells Runnin’ Scared. “The rest of [the employees] are too scared.”
Asked what she expected the outcome of the day’s strikes and rally to be, Batts was unequivocal: “I expect us to get what we deserve: fair wages and to form a union without intimidation.”
Kendall Fells, Organizing Director for Fast Food Forward, the labor advocacy group representing fast food workers in New York, tells Runnin’ Scared that worker intimidation is not a figment of protesters’ imaginations. “Employers threaten their employees with reduced hours or firings. You can be fired for accidentally eating a fry.”
Fells adds that the companies employing them are enriching themselves on the backs of workers. “These workers are living in complete poverty, but they work for some of the richest corporations in the country, and their sucking it all out of the workers,” says Fells.
“Some of [the workers] live in homeless shelters, some couch surf, but McDonald’s’ CEO tripled his salary last year.”
The workers’ campaign has widespread support among this year’s field of candidates. Mayoral candidates John Liu, Bill de Blasio, and Christine Quinn have all come out in support of the movement, as has Comptroller candidate Scott Stringer.
New York is only one among dozens of cities seeing these protests today, which were planned to coincide with the anniversary of the March on Washington. At last count, actions were taking place in 60 cities across the country, including Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Chicago.