All over the city today, protesters were out in a full show of support for fast food workers in search of fairer wages and the right to unionize. For the second time in three months, the nationwide one-day strike brought rallies to fast food restaurants around the city. The Voice made it out to one of today’s planned events at Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn, where we found a lively cross section of the borough fighting on the side of fast food workers at Wendy’s, KFC, MacDonald’s, and other big chains.
In August strikers shut down fast food restaurants in 60 cities, making the same demands protesters made today: Raise fast food workers’ wages to $15 per hour and permit them to unionize free from intimidation or retaliation from management.
In the scrum of banners and vuvuzelas in front of a Wendy’s in downtown Brooklyn, organizers, politicians, religious leaders, and fast food workers demanded a fairer wage and exulted the momentum behind the movement. New York is just one of 100 cities seeing walkouts today, and with Bill de Blasio’s election on the backs of unions, the tone was hopeful.
Alvin Major, 48, has been working at KFC for two years, at one time serving as a cook at three locations around the city. He has a bachelor’s degree in business management, but says he likes the work. “I enjoy cooking,” says Major.
He has been a part of the Fast Food Forward Campaign for the last 18 months trying to get fast food companies to increases wages.
“I have four kids,” says Major. “One just got accepted to college. Another one is coming up next year.”
The jump from $7.25 to $15 per hour would drastically improve Major’s ability to pay his rent, provide for his kids, and eat better. “When somebody told me [organizers] wanted to push the wage up for $7.25, I joined up right away.”
Major tells the Voice that when his supervisors discovered he had begun organizing for higher wages, they cut him from two locations and banished him to a location far from his home.
“I used to walk to work,” says Major. “Now they made me buy a monthly Metro card.”
Major’s situation is not unique among fast food workers — the majority are adults trying to support families, says New York Communities for Change director Jonathan Westin.
“It’s mothers and fathers trying to break into the middle class,” explains Westin. “It’s not teenagers flipping burgers.”
Despite the lack of any sign that the fast food industry is bowing to pressure, Westin believes that the corporations targeted by today’s rallies have the power to raise wages on their own without necessarily needing legislative intervention.
“At some point they have to get wise.”