New York -- A week after hundreds of Wal-Mart employees walked off their jobs to demand better wages and the freedom to form a union, fast-food workers from some of the nation’s largest chains are staging a similar walkout.
Employees from McDonald's, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and KFC are staging protests in locations around New York City today, demanding $15 an hour in pay – more than double the minimum wage some receive – and the right to form a union.
“What we’re finding is that there’s huge support among fast food workers to form a union and to fight back against the poverty wages that they’re being paid,” said Jonathan Westin, organizing director of New York Communities for Change, which is helping to organize the strike.
“Most workers are being paid minimum wage, they can’t afford rent, they can’t afford to put food on the table,” he said. “Many people rely on public assistance to subsidize their wages.”
The first walkout began at a McDonald's on Madison Avenue at 6:30 a.m., where 14 workers refused to enter the building – the majority of the morning shift, Westin said. The protests are now moving to downtown Brooklyn, the Penn Station area, and Times Square.
Darryl Young, 24, was one of the McDonald's workers to walkout. The Bronx resident says he gets paid $7.25 an hour to be a cashier, but is asked to do many more jobs -- maintenance, manning the grill, cleanup. He's the only one in his household earning an income, and said he was nervous about walking out because he has a 2-week-old daughter.
"I'm just standing up for what's right," he said.
It is often difficult to organize service workers because of the changing nature of their shifts – it’s even more difficult to organize low-wage workers in a bad economy, because people are afraid they won’t be able to find a new job.
But Westin said his group had been talking to workers throughout the summer. Interest grew after Wal-Mart workers walked off the job last week. Workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach also walked out last week.
Those actions follow a period of relative quiet on the labor front, broken by the Chicago teacher’s strike earlier this year and a strike by employees of Hostess Brands that the company blamed for putting it out of business.
More walkouts are likely to come.
“Strikes have always run in clusters, at points that nobody anticipates,” Julius Getman, a labor expert and the author of “Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement,” said in an interview last week.