Fast Food workers and economic justice advocates across the country, but especially in New York, had much to celebrate on Wednesday as a state panel announced its recommendation that all employees at chain restaurants should be paid at least $15 per hour by the year 2018.
The announcement by the New York's Fast Food Wage Board followed an energized campaign by workers and progressive allies who said the $6.25 increase to the minimum wage was necessary to lift employees who work at McDonald's, KFC, and other regional and national chains out of poverty.
On the 'Fight for $15' Twitter feed there were congratulations and expressions of victory:
Congrats to everyone organizing the @fightfor15 for the rights of fast food workers to earn a living wage. Big victory today in New York!— B. Dolan (@BDolanSFR) July 23, 2015
"It's a victory! We have been fighting, and today we have made history," said Alvin Major, a 49-year-old cook at a KFC restaurant in Brooklyn. He said a $15 minimum wage would mean that he could stop relying on food stamps to feed his family of six.
"This will help me to take care of my kids, send them to the right school and put food on the table," he said.
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The bump to $15 an hour in New York, which would affect workers at chains with 30 or more stores nationally, would match recent increases in San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. It would take effect over the next three years for the New York City, and over the next six years for the entire state.
"This is a historical moment. We did it," Jorel Ware, a McDonald’s worker, told the Guardian at a rally celebrating the wage board’s recommendations. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with both "I can’t breathe" and "Fight for $15," Ware said fewer people would live in poverty thanks to the wage increase. "It’s wonderful. I get to live on my own again. I am telling you it’s a wonderful thing. When I started the fight, I just wanted something better for myself," he said. "The Fight for $15 has showed me what’s possible when people stick and work together."
In an op-ed in the New York Daily News that appeared on Thursday, three members of the wage board—Byron Brown, Michael Fishman, and Kevin Ryan—explained why the personal testimony of people like Yancy Rivera, a single working mother, was emblematic of why they ultimately made their recommendation:
Yancy testified at the hearing of our board in Albany that after 11 years at McDonald’s, she makes $9.50 an hour. Her 17-year-old daughter is not home as much these days because she’s working, too, trying to help her mom pay the bills. Even with both incomes, the two of them and Yancy’s 5-year-old son are squeezed into a studio apartment.
Over four days of hearings in Manhattan, Buffalo, Albany and Garden City this May and June, these are the stories we heard-from hundreds of fast food workers. Women and men. Young and old. Black, white, Latino and Asian.
Their stories were sobering evidence that families across our state are hurting. Boosting pay for fast-food workers will strengthen their purchasing power, allowing them to afford basic necessities like food and rent, and put more money back into their neighborhoods. A stronger wage floor will put $1.3 billion into these New Yorkers’ pockets.
Yancy works as hard as any of us do. She wants the best for her children and the chance to get ahead that’s supposed to be part of the American bargain if you’re willing to work. But you can’t keep up when you’re choosing between rent and the electric bill or between bus fare and medicine. Our entire economy slows down when more and more hard-working New Yorkers are paid so little that they can’t afford the basics.
Coming on the same day progressive lawmakers in Washington, DC received applause for introducing a $15 minimum wage bill at the federal level and the University of California system announced an increase of wages for its employees to $15 per hour by 2017, the victory in New York was just the most far-reaching example of how the national 'Fight for $15' movement has not only captured the imaginations and aspirations of low-wage workers, but is actually winning tactical and tangible victories.