April 8, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
Harlem, NY—Fast food workers made history on a historic day when 400 of them walked off their jobs to demand better pay and the right to unionize. Striking on the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the workers rallied at Marcus Garvey Park holding up placards of “I Am a Man” that sanitation workers held up in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee where King was killed. (Watch Video)
Chad Tall, a fast food worker at Taco Bell in downtown Manhattan, told LaborPress that he walked off the job with his co-workers because he’s not earning enough to support himself and two family members.
“I’m earning $7.50 an hour on average for a 35-hour work week. I have close friends who aren’t earning enough either. You shouldn’t be poor and stressed out,” said Tall.
He noted that he’s treated a lot better at his current job than a previous fast food job, but said that many people in the fast-growing fast food workers movement are treated terribly by managers and owners.
“The issue is that they ask you to do things way beyond the job’s expectations; there is a constant threat of losing our jobs because the managers make these unnecessary demands. We are under too much pressure,” Tall said.
As the workers rallied before marching to a McDonalds on W. 125th Street, one of them spoke to the crowd about the hardships he’s facing trying to raise a family on $7.25.
“I used to get $5 an hour when I was ten years old. I got up two more dollars. I’m 27. That ain’t right,” he said.
He said he’s tired of going to work and not being able to go home to his family and put enough on the table to feed his family.
Some nights I go hungry, some nights I don’t. It all depends on how they decide to make my schedule.”
Community leaders and organizations, labor unions and elected officials joined the workers as they struck and rallied.
Camille Rivera, executive director of UnitedNY, told the workers outside the McDonalds restaurant that the groups and pols would continue to support them as they went back to work one day after striking.
One of the pols, Mayoral hopeful, John Liu, said that he was moved and inspired by the fast food workers’ actions.
“It was never easy to Dr. King when got started, it was never easy for the workers he stood up for,” Liu said.
He empathized with the workers’ struggles by telling them, “I can only imagine what you’re going through. I can’t say I know exactly how you feel; I can’t say that I understand the anxiety. But I’m here to say that I’m standing with you.”
Liu told LaborPress in an interview that the city has got to raise the minimum wage in order to give working families greater purchasing power.
“$7.25 is not a number for anybody to support themselves in the city. And in many cases it’s not teenagers working part time. It’s adults with kids to support. The poverty level in New York City is one that requires a $11.50 minimum wage in order to get out of poverty,” said Liu.