Democracy Now! was there when workers at dozens of restaurants owned by McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell and others went on strike Thursday and rallied in a bid for fair pay and union recognition. Organizers with the Fast Food Forward campaign are seeking an increased pay rate of $15 an hour, about double what the minimum-wage workers are making. Workers and their allies demanded a wage that would let them support their families. Martyna Starosta filed this report. Thanks to Jamie Hall who assisted during the shooting.
JONATHAN WESTIN: We’re at the Burger King in front of Penn Station—community groups, clergy, workers, unions—that we’re out here to support the workers at Burger King who walked out.
RAYMOND LOPEZ: [echoed by the People’s Mic] My name is Raymond Lopez. I’ve been on strike since 5:30 a.m. I strongly believe that when the people on the bottom move, the people on the top fall. The reason—the reason you’re on the top, because we’re holding you up. Might as well appreciate us.
JONATHAN WESTIN: My name is Jonathan Westin. I work with New York Communities for Change. And we’ve been organizing fast-food workers in the city for a few months now. And today, hundreds of fast-food workers walked out of dozens of fast-food restaurants all over the city to protest the poverty wages that people are being paid.
SAVEEDRA JANTUAH: My name is Saveedra Jantuah, and I work for Burger King on 255 West 34th Street. I’m supporting this action because it’s not fair how we’re being treated, and we need a better raise, $15 an hour, and a union to survive in New York. I work morning, noons and nights, and my schedule is flexible. You know, my challenges is, I go to school, have my son to take care of, so I have to go back and forth, run around for school, then go to work, get my son, and it’s just a lot of stress. We get a lot of stress, headaches. Managers tell us we can’t do it, we don’t have no power, we don’t have no right; it’s what they say goes. And that’s not what they say goes. They’re acting like we’re the—like they’re our masters, and we’re slaves. That—those days are over.
JONATHAN WESTIN: For many, you know, I think the assumption was that fast-food workers are teenagers working after-school jobs. I don’t think that was the case before the recession, and it’s definitely not the case after the recession. There’s a lot of mothers and fathers and people raising families, that, you know, fell out of employment during the recession, that are now working fast-food, low-wage jobs, that just can’t get by. And a lot of these folks rely on public assistance and public healthcare to get by, so taxpayers are footing the bill for what corporations like Burger King and McDonald’s aren’t paying.
PAMELA WALDRON: My name is Pamela Waldron. I work at KFC in Penn Station, 34th Street. The reason why I came out here, the pay are lousy. The working condition is bad. We don’t have no respect, no voice in the workplace. Twice, I was pregnant on my job. In the summertime, there were no AC. They had one fan. And they said the fan is for the customer. At my job, they are threatening us that if we do join the union, they could fire us.
ALEXANDER THOMPSON: My name is Alex Thompson, and I work—I’m an organizer for New York Communities for Change, NYCC. The workers at these fast-food restaurants are making $7.25 starting out, and this is the most expensive city in America. The McDonald’s, for instance, last year had $5.5 billion profit, so that’s after they paid their actors, paid their bills, paid everything. They $5.5 billion left over. So to say that they can’t afford to pay a worker $15 is ludicrous. Some of the challenges are, you know, fear, fear people—people make $7.25, but they don’t want to lose that.
PAMELA WALDRON: What inspired me to do this is the Wal-Mart strike. Wal-Mart has been around too long for them not to have a union. It’s ridiculous. Wal-Mart is one of the biggest stores, and they do not have a union, and now they’re fighting for the same thing that we are fighting for. I’d rather be fired than quit, because at least when I’m fired, I know I’m fired for doing what I believe and what is right.