April 15, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – Black Lives Matter met the Fight for $15 outside a McDonald’s in downtown Brooklyn April 14. About 100 mostly young people marched over to Fulton Street, the borough’s main shopping street, late in the morning, singing “All we want is 15 dollars/ We are the workers underpaid,” to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.
” Many wore black “NYC Freedom Fighters” hoodies emblazoned with red boxing gloves, “I Can’t Breathe,” and “Fight for $15.” Signs read “Economic Justice = Racial Justice = Immigrant Justice,” “Justice for Akai Gurley,” and “McEmpleos Nos Cuestan a Todos” (McJobs Cost Us All).
“We’re not only fighting against police violence, we’re fighting against economic violence,” Dawn O’Neal of Atlanta Fight for $15 told the crowd, before leading a chant of “if we don’t get it, shut it down.”
MC Jorel Ware spoke about Jeffrey Pendleton, a homeless 26-year-old Burger King worker from Nashua, New Hampshire, who last month was found dead of unknown causes in a jail cell in nearby Manchester after he was unable to afford $100 bail on a marijuana-possession charge. “The cops have no explanation,” he said angrily. “We’ve got to make it stop.”
“It’s all intertwined,” he told LaborPress later. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, or getting child-care workers a raise, “at the end of the day, we all need justice.”
“We’re not just about one thing. It’s about empowerment for everybody,” said protester Ty-Shawn Nunez, 22, a McDonald’s worker from East New York. Most fast-food workers in the city are black or brown, he said, so “it’s about being able to live comfortably no matter who you are” and getting corporations like McDonald’s to “look at us like we’re not just cogs in a machine, but people. We are people and should be able to put food in our fridge without public assistance.”
“We are all black people and we have to come together and fight as one,” said Roxanne Lewis, 35, a subway worker from Queens. That, she explained, was both for worker rights and “for our lives to matter.”
Akai Gurley, who was killed in 2014 by a police officer who fired blindly into a housing-project stairwell in East New York, “could have been my grandson,” said Rebecca Cornick, 61, a Wendy’s worker who lives in the neighborhood.
Her grandson made it out by becoming a U.S. Marine, she said, but sometimes people turn to crime because they don’t have any way to support themselves. All the jobs in the neighborhood are low-wage, she added.
“My job pays only two-thirds of my rent,” she said. She couldn’t try to find a better one, because “I had to stay in the neighborhood to stay close to my family. I feel like my back was against the wall.” After the recession, she added, she saw former businesspeople and teachers come into fast food because “those jobs were stable.”
“We decided to come out and fight for a better way of life,” she said of the campaign for a $15-an-hour minimum. “I’m glad to say it worked.”