Fast Food Workers in New York City Stage Wildcat Strike
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I guess worker-led revolts are catching. After a successful set of Black Friday protests at Walmart stores nationwide, New York City will see walkouts at dozens of fast-food restaurants today, part of a more explicit effort to unionize the sector with the slogan Fast Food Forward.
After three years of working at the McDonald’s restaurant on 51st Street and Broadway, Alterique Hall earns $8 an hour — and is yearning for something better [...]
Mr. Hall has enlisted in what workplace experts say is the biggest effort to unionize fast-food workers ever undertaken in the United States, a campaign that will be announced publicly on Thursday. The effort — backed by community and civil rights groups, religious leaders and a labor union — has engaged 40 full-time organizers in recent months to enlist workers at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Domino’s, Taco Bell and other fast-food restaurants across the city.
Leaders of the effort said that workers from several dozen fast-food restaurants in the city would walk of the job on Thursday to protest what they said were low wages and retaliation against several workers who have backed the unionization campaign. They said it would be the first-ever multi-restaurant strike by fast-food workers in American history, although it was unclear how many workers would walk off the job.
The first walkout began at a McDonald’s on 40th Street and Madison Avenue at 6:30 this morning. Similar efforts are planned at Taco Bells, KFCs and Burger Kings in Manhattan today. Organizers expect “hundreds” of workers to participate in the walkout. 50,000 men and women work in the fast food industry in New York, the nation’s largest and perhaps most unequal city. $8 an hour doesn’t come close to a living wage there.
The explicit demands of the campaign include a right to unionize, and a living wage, which they set at $15 an hour. They argue that they currently get subsidized by the taxpayer in the form of public assistance, a similar theme for critics of Walmart, whose associates often receive food stamps and Medicaid benefits. So I guess you could say that these labor actions represent an effort at deficit reduction, to remove hundreds of thousands if not millions of low-wage workers from the public assistance rolls. Grover Norquist should be out there in solidarity!
It’s clear to me that these labor actions have everything to do with the 30-year severance of wages and productivity, and the increase in inequality that has fostered. A majority of new jobs since the Great Recession have come from the low-wage service sector, yet 93% of the increase in wages have gone to the very top. This stratification has led to mass civil unrest in the Occupy movement, and now it has spread to workers. And this campaign in New York City seeks solidarity between retail workers, car wash workers and airport employees – LAX airport, which I guess is tangentially related to this action, was shut down on the day before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year. That kind of cross-sector solidarity is critical to the long-shot success of these campaigns.
More from Sarah Jaffe.