Fast food strikes hit NYC: ‘We should get more respect’

Liz Goodwin
Yahoo News
Demonstrator Zev Nicholson, of Boston, left, holds a placard and chants during a protest outside a McDonalds fast foot restaurant, Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Boston, held to call attention to the denial of overtime pay and other violations protesters say deprive workers of the money they're owed. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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Demonstrator Zev Nicholson, of Boston, left, holds a placard and chants during a protest outside a McDonalds fast foot restaurant, Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Boston, held to call attention to the denial of overtime pay and other violations protesters say deprive workers of the money they're owed. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

NEW YORK--Thousands of workers walked off fast food and retail jobs in more than 100 cities Thursday, protesting what they call poverty wages that do not allow them to support themselves or their families.

Reynetta Bennett, a 23-year-old Wendy’s employee, joined a rally of dozens of union members and workers in downtown Brooklyn Thursday. The protesters gathered outside the Wendy’s sliding doors, which were locked, chanting that they wanted to be paid $15 an hour.

“I just think we should get more respect,” Bennett, who makes $8.15 an hour after seven years at her job, told Yahoo News. “We should get paid a decent wage.”

Fast food jobs are no longer just for teenagers looking to get a little bit of job experience and pocket change after school. Nearly 70 percent of fast food workers are the primary bread-winners for their families, according to a study from the University of Illinois that was funded by a group pushing for higher wages for the workers. About a quarter of workers are supporting kids, the study found.

The battle for higher fast food wages began last winter, when some of these same groups staged walk outs and rallies. So far, not much has materialized from the efforts, in part because fast food employees are regarded as replaceable. Also, fast food franchises are operated by a patchwork of owners and employee turnover is high, making unionization difficult.

But the rallies have attracted more participants and attention this year, suggesting the movement may be gaining momentum. More than 50 members of Congress sent a letter to five major fast food chains this week to urge them to raise wages.

“I think we deserve a raise,” said Pierre, a worker who walked out of the Brooklyn Wendy’s Thursday. “I think we need a union.”

Bennett, the Wendy’s worker, says the 30 hours a week she is allotted at work is not enough to survive. Like many fast food workers, she relies on public assistance—in her case, food stamps--to make ends meet.

Those pushing for higher wages for these workers argue that taxpayers often end up footing the bill when low-income workers sign up for welfare in order to survive. 

The U.S. minimum wage is $7.25, which adds up to about $15,000 a year for a full-time worker. Fast food workers are agitating for $15 per hour, which they say is what it would take to support themselves and their families. Nearly 60 percent of all jobs created since 2008 have paid hourly wages of $13.83 or less, leading to frustration about stagnating wages for many American workers.

Bennett said if she was paid an hourly wage of $15, she’d be able to save up to attend college. “I could start a family, as well," she said.

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