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"We Deserve Better": Striking NYC Fast Food Workers Demand Higher Pay

Demonstration marks anniversary of MLK's death and historic 1968 sanitation workers strike

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Demonstrators protesting low wages and the lack of union representation in the fast food industry chant and hold signs outside of a McDonald’s restaurant near Times Square in New York, April 4, 2013. (Photo: Jenna Pope via Twitter)

Hundreds of New York City's lowest-paid workers walked off the job Thursday at over 60 of the city's fast food restaurants to say, "We deserve better."

In what people are calling the largest ever protest of its kind, over 400 workers from the country's biggest corporate "food" chains—including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC among others—took part in the action.

“We deserve better," said Glenda Soto, a McDonald's worker. "I work very hard. I’m a single mom, I have 3 kids, and on $7.25 an hour I can’t support them, and I can’t give them the education I want them to have. That hurts all of us."

The workers were calling for a minimum pay of $15 an hour and the right to organize and collectively bargain without the threat of retaliation or intimidation. Currently, the median wage for fast food workers in New York City is $9 an hour, placing even full-time workers at an average income of $18,500 per year—less than half what it costs to support a family in New York City, according to a statement released by organizing coalition Fast Food Forward.

"Fast food workers often qualify for food stamps and other public assistance," they write, "which means that corporations in the $200 billion fast food industry are forcing taxpayers to subsidize their low wages and burdening the US economy."

"While fast food corporations reap the benefits of record profits, workers are barely getting by," the group continues on their website. "In America, people who work hard should be able to afford basic necessities like groceries, rent, childcare and transportation."

Thursday's strike was deliberately organized on the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who, at the time of his death, was campaigning on behalf of low-wage sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee. The fast food worker's campaign has been buoyed by support by local clergy members who see a responsibility to carry on King's legacy in the struggle for economic justice.

"To think that in 2013 we're having the same discussion about gaining a respectable wage and the right to organize as we had in 1968 is ludicrous," said Minister Kirsten John Foy, a civil rights activist with the National Action Network in Brooklyn.

Thursday's action follows a previous protest in New York last November when 200 workers went on strike. "The protestors in November showed that workers were able to look their managers in their faces and say they deserve better," said Jonathan Westin, director of the Fast Food Forward Campaign. "Other workers were emboldened and the numbers are continuing to grow."


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