April 6, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Building tradespeople and fast food workers tired of ongoing exploitation faced potential arrest inside a Midtown McDonald’s this weekend, calling for union representation and a $15 an hour minimum wage.
Hundreds of low-paid and unrepresented workers with seemingly little in common save their dead-end jobs, converged on the fast food outlet at 539 Sixth Avenue on Saturday morning following a brief march from Walker Tower on West 18th Street.
Protestors kicking off the march outside the JDS Developers site invoked Dr. Martin Luther King’s pro-worker legacy while denouncing company founder Michael Stern’s long track record of alleged wage theft, harassment and abuse.
“Today’s the day that Martin Luther King got assassinated while he was in Memphis fighting for sanitation workers trying to form a union,” Chaz Rynkiewicz, director of organizing, Local 79 Construction and General Building Laborers, told LaborPress. “We’re very proud and honored to be part of the fast food workers campaign. We have the same problems in the non-union construction industry as they do in that industry.”
Saturday’s demonstration follows last month’s rally in Brooklyn where low-wage earners from diverse industries also joined together in solidarity, this time in support of car wash workers seeking their first-ever union contract with Vegas Auto Spa owner Marat Leshehinsky.
“This is about workers who bust their ass every day when they get up and don’t get properly compensated for it, and don’t have a voice in what they do,” Rynkiewicz added.
Freddy Medina, 42, a non-union construction worker and father of six said he brought one of his children to the weekend rally to teach him about worker rights — and because he couldn’t afford a babysitter.
“Being a construction worker is hard work,” Medina said. “When you don’t have a union, the contractors take advantage of you. They don’t pay you the right wages, and they don’t give you the proper equipment to do the job in a safe way. I’m lucky that I’ve never been injured.”
Others, like striking ironworker LaFondra Brown, 34 aren’t so lucky, and have been grievously hurt on non-union construction sites throughout the city..
“The Ironworkers are here to support the fast food workers in the fight for $15,” Brown said outside the Sixth Avenue McDonald’s. “We all want more money. We all deserve more money. We want it, and we want it now.”
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez [D-10th District], took specific aim at the $660 billion fast food industry.
“There is no reason they should pay their workers less than $15 an hour,” the councilman declared.
McDonald’s recently announced that it will modestly bump up the salary of a limited number of employees to less than $10 an hour. But the move has done nothing to deter the mass demonstration and low-wage worker strike slated for April 15.
Rosa Rivera, a longtime McDonald’s worker who makes $8.75 an hour, said that struggling workers need $15 an hour with “respect and a union.”
“On April 15, we’re all going to go on strike,” Rivera said. “There’s going to be a lot more people. And we’re going to keep fighting if we don’t get $15 an hour.”
Striking non-union ironworker Carol Turner, 52, said that low-wage workers everywhere are united behind the mass movement.
“We are together, united and strong,” Turner said. “There is no turning back.”