June 8, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Fast food workers of the world rejoice — you really are getting closer. Not only have two more major American cities started the move towards a $15 an hour minimum wage, with the Empire State not that far behind. A damning new report shows that over the last four years, New York’s fast food industry has gotten richer, while it’s employees have grown steadily poorer. And now, none other than Hillary Clinton says she wants to be the “champion" of fast food workers everywhere.
On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Fast Food Wage Board convened in Buffalo, just in time for a new report from the National Employment Law Project [NELP] showing that between 2010 and 2014, the state’s fast food giants increased their profits by 14.5 percent while simultaneously suppressing employee wages by almost 4 percent. Nationally, that figure was even worse, showing a 5.5 percent decline in fast food employee wages over the same period.
Even with that sad state of affairs, hard pressed working women and men still continued to flock to McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, et al. looking for a job, inflating fast food employment in New York State alone by 60 percent since 2000.
“With sales revenues across the industry growing, it’s clear that workers’ wages are egregiously out of sync with the corporate profits they help grow and out of touch with what it takes to afford rent, groceries and gas in cities nationwide, from Los Angeles to St. Louis to New York City,” NELP Executive Director Christine Owens said in a statement.
Last week, lawmakers in both Los Angeles and St. Louis set course for a $15 minimum wage, with the mayor of Kansas City also holding an important hearing looking at raising the minimum wage in K.C.
Over the weekend, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton pumped up 1,300 fast food workers at a convention in Detroit when she said no one who works hard for a living should have to rely on food stamps to feed their families, and urged attendees to keep fighting for $15 and a union.
More than half of all fast food workers today rely on public assistance just to get by, leaving tax payers with a $7 billion bill each year.
“I hope that every one of you will continue to raise your voices until we get all working Americans a better deal,” the former first lady said via telephone. “I want to be your champion. I want to fight with you every day. I’m well aware that the folks on top already have plenty of friends in Washington, but we together will change the direction of this great country.”
Front line fast food workers who have been pressing the issue over the past few years are already convinced that the winds of change are at their backs.
“We’ve got unstoppable momentum,” said LeTonya Wilson, 41, a McDonald’s worker from Richmond, Virginia. “Fifteen dollars is sweeping the country and we’re going to build off victories in places like Los Angeles, New York and St. Louis to win $15 in Richmond and all across the country. Everyone said we had no chance, but we’ve shown when we stick together and speak out, we get life-changing results.”
Although the fast food movement had its genesis here in New York City, Gotham finds itself playing catch up with other more progressive cities out west. Governor Cuomo finally called for a Fast Food Wage Board in May. Its work is expected to be concluded before the summer is out.
“When we win the new standard in New York, we’ll keep going,” Service Employees International Union head Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. “That standard should be met in city after city and state after state across the country. We will call on our elected representatives across the country to stand with us to raise standards, raise wages, and respect working moms and dads’ right to speak out together.”
Contrary to popular belief that paints fast food workers as kids looking for some extra dough, the average fast food workers is near 30. Over a quarter are parents attempting to raise children on insufficient wages.