May 10, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Underpaid workers in St. Louis who who can no longer make it on the city's $7.35-an-hour minimum wage are striking for sustainable incomes at fast food joints all over The Gateway to the West this week – and the New York City activists who helped inspire them to action are rooting for them all the way.
"Courage is spreading like wildfire," Brooklyn KFC worker Joseph Barrera said. "The key of a strike is for people to get over their initial fear, to stand up for what is right – and I hope we helped people across the country see the power of organizing. What we face is not just a St. Louis issue or a New York issue – a living wage would benefit workers in every city."
Hundreds of New York City fast food workers employed at McDonald's, Burger King, Papa John's, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Domino's, KFC and Wendy's restaurants walked off their jobs in April, marking the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination and the slain civil rights leader's legacy of social and economic justice.
Hardworking fast food workers in Chicago soon followed later that month, staging their own walkouts demanding a minimum wage increase to $15-an-hour and the right to join a union.
"As someone who has spent years advocating for low-wage workers it is not surprising to see them come together across the country to demand decent wages and the right to join a union," said United NY Executive Director Camille Rivera. "These latest strikes show that it's not a New York issue or a Chicago issue – but a nationwide issue."
Last December, United NY, New York Communities for Change and other activist groups rallied outside a homeless shelter in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn called the Auburn Family Reception Center. A place where some fast food workers – even though they have jobs – are still forced to live.
"We have to make $15 an hour to make it in New York City," said homeless 23-year-old Burger King worker Saavedra Jantuah. "We're not asking for too much. We're only asking to get by. It's only right."
Pamela Flood, another fast food worker who also found herself homeless despite holding multiple jobs, said that the minimum wage is simply "not an option."
"You can't pay bills," Flood said. "You can't even provide car fare, let alone food, day care expenses and school tuition. I'm in the shelter, and I have to pick up two jobs in order to maintain a living and find affordable housing. That's not fair."
It's the same story in St. Louis where fast food worker advocates say they are seeking to put money back in the pockets of the 36,000 men and women who work hard in the city’s fast food restaurants, but still can’t afford basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent.
According to activists there, the self-sufficiency standard for an adult with one child living in St. Louis County is $14.84 an-hour working full time.
Fast food and retail workers in St. Louis reportedly bring $1 billion a year into city cash registers, while most of those employees earn the state minimum wage of $7.35, or just above it. As a result, many are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get healthcare for their children.
Low-wage earner advocates insist that if salaries are increased, not only will workers benefit, but the overall economy will improve as well.