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“We Can’t Survive on $7.25”: Fast-Food Workers Kick Off National Day of Action for Higher Pay

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Fast-food workers are walking off the job in about 100 cities today in what organizers call their largest action to date. Today’s strikes and protests continue a campaign that began last year to call for a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. Early this morning, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman and Hany Massoud headed to Times Square in New York City where a group of McDonald's workers were joined by a crowd of hundreds of supporters to kick off their strike. We hear voices from the protest and speak to Camille Rivera of United NY, part of the newly formed New Day New York Coalition, which has organized this week of action to fight income inequality and build economic fairness.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, already this morning has been a very busy one. At about 6:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, Democracy Now!'s Hany Massoud and I headed to a McDonald's just above Times Square to cover a scene that is playing out in over a hundred cities around the country.


AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, this is Democracy Now!, walking along 50th Street right near McDonald’s, where hundreds of workers—it’s about 6:30 in the morning—are coming to the McDonald’s to join other workers who have stepped outside.

PROTESTERS: We can’t survive on $7.25! We can’t survive on $7.25!

AMY GOODMAN: They’re chanting, “We can’t survive on $7.25,” and they’ve walked into the McDonald’s. We’ll see what happens.

ANNE KLAEYSEN: [echoed by the people’s microphone] My name Anne Klaeysen, New York Society for Ethical Culture. This is a call to the living, to those who refuse to make peace with evil, with the suffering and waste of the world. This is the call to the human, not the perfect, to those who know their own prejudices, who have no intention of becoming prisoners of their own limitations.

REV. CHERI KROON: [echoed by the people’s microphone] Mic check! My name is Reverend Cheri Kroon. I am from the Flatbush Reformed Church. I am here because the Prophet Jeremiah said, “Do justice every morning.” Do justice every morning. And in God’s economy, no one gets thrown away. In God’s economy, no one gets thrown away.

FLÁVIA CABRAL: [echoed by the people’s microphone] My name is Flávia Cabral, and I’m here to strike for the—our salary is not enough. Not enough. Salary is not enough. So we need more money for support our family. And we want benefit and union to this fast-food company. So we’re doing this for our family, to support them. It’s not enough money to support them.

RABBI MICHAEL FEINBERG: [echoed by the people’s microphone] I’m Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition. I have a question for you: Do you feel your power? Because you’re the leadership of a new movement that’s going to change working conditions and ultimately the whole economy of this country.

STATE SEN. BRAD HOYLMAN: [echoed by the people’s microphone] My name is State Senator Brad Hoylman. I am extremely proud to join my brothers and sisters in the efforts to get fair wages for all workers in fast-food restaurants across New York City and across the country. It’s just not fair that workers here at this McDonald’s in my district have been denied a living wage and the right to organize. Workers here demand 15 bucks an hour and the right to organize. They are currently paid less than poverty wages. That’s not enough to raise a family in this city or anywhere. I am so proud to be here today. We are close to victory. We are being joined by 100 cities across the nation, thousands of workers. This is a $200 billion industry. They—we demand a piece of that success.

PROTESTERS: We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back!

AMY GOODMAN: Reporting from one McDonald’s in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, one of a hundred cities around the country where these protests are taking place, as the people behind me chant, “We can’t survive on $7.25.” I’m Amy Goodman for Democracy Now!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was the scene at a McDonald’s restaurant here in New York just before we went on the air. Across the country, fast-food workers in about a hundred cities are walking off the job in their largest effort yet to push for higher wages. Organizers are calling for a pay hike to $15 an hour, but they face opposition from the National Restaurant Association, which says such an increase would cause restaurants to hire fewer workers and rely more on automation.

AMY GOODMAN: All of this comes as a new report exposes how fast-food CEOs have not just saved money by paying workers low wages, they’ve also used the government to subsidize their own million-dollar salaries with taxpayer dollars. That’s because a loophole in the tax code lets companies deduct the costs of performance-based executive pay.

Well, for more, we’re going to go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Sarah Anderson, who wrote the new report, “Fast Food CEOs Rake In Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay.” She’s director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

And here in New York our guest is Camille Rivera, executive director of United New York, part of the newly formed New Day New York Coalition, which includes unions, low-wage workers, including fast-food workers, as well as people who participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The coalition is in the middle of a week of action that calls for policies that generate widespread prosperity.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Camille, were you just up at this protest at Times Square?

CAMILLE RIVERA: Yes, we were there very early supporting all the workers. We had community organizations, labor organizations, and the workers themselves, clergy, out there supporting the workers, going in the store and demanding—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it was quite something when hundreds of people—


AMY GOODMAN: —marched right into the McDonald’s.


AMY GOODMAN: Security getting a little nervous there.


AMY GOODMAN: But the statements were made—


AMY GOODMAN: —and then people left, among them workers right at that store at 51st and Broadway. Who has organized this?

CAMILLE RIVERA: This is organized by a coalition organization—a number of coalition organizations, United New York being one of them, Fast Food Forward, New York Communities for Change, and partners such as Make the Road New York. And we have been, for the past year and a half, working with other, you know, organizations, clergy, etc., to create a support network for these workers. And these workers have been leading the fight over the last year and a half, really taking it to their employers, basically saying, you know, “We definitely demand respect. We need respect. We demand $15 an hour.” And it’s been a wonderful campaign that has been very inclusive, and it’s a campaign that’s been very tied to the community.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s been repercussion from some of the prior actions of some of the workers who have walked out, in terms of how their employers have dealt with them?

CAMILLE RIVERA: I mean, I think that it’s ranged from worker intimidation to potential—to firings, to threats. I mean, workers are getting—you know, are definitely under the microscope and being intimidated at their workplaces, and they continue to push on. We have workers who have, you know, organized their own strikes on their own, wildcat strikes, where they said, “Well, I’m not going to take this anymore; I’m going to walk off this job.” We’ve had community and clergy go there and do delegations and talk to the owners, demanding—from the communities themselves, saying, “You will not do this in my community. You will not intimidate workers.” And it’s just been so amazing. It’s been an amazing opportunity. Workers are emboldened. Workers are empowered. And they are continuing their fight.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And have you seen any—because there’s a tendency sometimes by some companies, when they have these kind of organizing campaigns, to start either raising wages to prevent a unionization campaign from being successful—are you seeing any cracks among some of these fast-food companies in terms of being able to reform some of their labor practices?

CAMILLE RIVERA: I mean, not really. I mean, maybe they say—they talk to workers and say, “We’ll give you 10 extra cents,” or something like that. But I think that’s great. I mean, if they’re giving them wage increases, that means that obviously something is working. I just means that that’s obviously not enough.


CAMILLE RIVERA: If you think of the story of—there’s a children’s story about this cow that—that they’re doing organizing. And they say, “Well, you know, we can get 10 cents. You know, if I give you 10 cents, is that OK?” It’s actually not OK; they need 15 and union.

AMY GOODMAN: I was speaking to a couple of the workers out there this morning. One woman, Elba, who had just come from inside working, she worked there for six years, no vacation pay, no sick pay, makes $7.50 an hour, said she had gotten one raise in six years to bring it up to $7.50, and could not support her family on that.

CAMILLE RIVERA: I mean, you see workers having this job working in two fast-food—you know, two fast-food stores. They, some of them, live in shelters. We’ve had a number of workers that live in shelters. We’ve had a number of workers who are on some sort of public assistance just to be able to make ends meet. We have a story of a worker who works in Upper Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn and walks to work every day because he can’t afford to actually have transportation, because he has to eat, and he has to provide for his family. I mean, it’s pretty devastating, the stories that are out there, and it’s unconscionable. And I think that there’s a responsibility and there needs to be a responsibility from these corporations to basically look at themselves and say, you’re making billions of dollars in profits; you are, you know, part of this public—you’re part of this service worker industry; you have a responsibility to pay these workers what they deserve.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And is your sense that the momentum is growing, especially after this Seattle referendum, in terms of at the political level, with politicians at the local government level being—getting more serious about living-wage situations?

CAMILLE RIVERA: Absolutely. I mean, if you think about two or three years ago, I mean, you were following the press when, you know, kind of the Wisconsin stuff was happening, this message of anti-austerity and—I mean, you know, of austerity and that the workers were responsible for this. And people were—definitely in the political sphere, you saw like officials being scared to say, “Oh, OK, we’ll raise wages a little bit, but we can’t actually raise them to what you guys are talking about. I mean, $15, that’s way too much.” And, you know, what you’ve seen over the last two years is a wave. Because of the Occupy movement, because of low-wage workers really pushing the envelope and demanding respect, you see people joining that kind of message and that chorus that, you know, we need to raise wages. And you see that in Seattle. You see that here in New York. You see that across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Seattle, very significant, SeaTac, the airport—


AMY GOODMAN: —and the surrounding facilities, they’ve just voted for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.


AMY GOODMAN: How are you organizing nationally?

CAMILLE RIVERA: Well, I mean, I think the workers are definitely—you know, it’s definitely spread. It’s 150 cities, I believe—somebody should correct or check those numbers. But, you know, there is a growing grassroot effort among community organizations and with the support of other organizations all across the country. You know, people are actually organizing on the ground on their own, as well. Like, I mean, you know, we get information online where workers say, “I’m in,” I don’t know, “Kansas, and I’m actually going to strike my store today.” And it’s pretty amazing. And it’s because what they’ve seen in New York and what they’ve seen across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Camille, I want to thank you for being with us. I know you want to get outside onto the streets. Camille Rivera is executive director of United New York, part of the newly formed New Day New York Coalition, which has organized this week of action to fight income inequality and build economic fairness. We we come back, we’ll be joined by Sarah Anderson. One last word?

CAMILLE RIVERA: December—today we’re having a rally at 4:30 to get everyone involved. We’ll have airport workers, fast-food workers. We’ll have teachers. Everybody will be there. We hope to see you there.

AMY GOODMAN: And where is it?

CAMILLE RIVERA: Four-thirty, Foley Square.

AMY GOODMAN: Ah, here in New York City.

CAMILLE RIVERA: Here in New York City.

AMY GOODMAN: And I know there are rallies all over the country. When we come back, Sarah Anderson. Then Jeremy Scahill’s film, Dirty Wars, has just been shortlisted for an Oscar. We’ll talk about the subject of his film, the increasing drone attacks around the world. Stay with us.

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As Workers Strike Against Low Wages, Fast-Food CEOs Fatten Pockets with Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay

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