New York's QSR employees return to work after wage protest

Nov. 30, 2012 | by Alicia Kelso

A day after hundreds of quick-service restaurant employees from a variety of chains staged a walk-out in New York City asking for higher wages and unionization, most went back to work today without incident. They were accompanied by elected officials and religious and other community members to ensure a seamless return.

However, according to a news release, a Wendy's employee was fired from his job at a unit in Brooklyn because of the walk-out. A protest ensued this afternoon, led by City Councilman Jumaane Williams, demanding that he be rehired.

The New York Times called Thursday's protest "the biggest wave of job actions in the history of America's fast food industry." About 200 employees from McDonald's, Taco Bell, KFC, Burger King and more, are calling for a "living wage" — $15 an hour — and the right to form a union without interference.

The workers' campaign is called "Fast Food Forward." The movement has been aided by grassroots community and labor organizations including United New York, Make the Road, La Fuente, Strong For All, the Black Institute, the New York City Central Labor Council and the Communications Workers of America.

"I support New York's fast food workers' demand for decent wages they can live on to support families, pay bills and put food on the table. Fast food companies are some of the wealthiest in America, yet many of their employees earn far below the federal poverty level. These business practices are unacceptable. All working New Yorkers deserve a living wage and the opportunity to join the middle class. I am behind the city's fast food workers who are standing up for this right and fighting for fair pay and an economy that works for everyone," said NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Fast Food Forward's Facebook page "likes" grew from 1,100 fans Thursday afternoon to more than 2,000 today.

"We're grateful to have the support of the community," said Saavedra Jantuah, a 23-year-old McDonald's employee in the Bronx. "Today, we're back on the job, but our work is just beginning. No one who works for a multi-billion dollar industry should have to rely on public assistance just to get by."

According to The Atlantic, a recent study from the National Employment Law Project estimated that the value of the minimum wage is 30 percent lower than it was in 1968.

A story about the workers' protest on has generated nearly 1,000 comments thus far supporting both sides of the issue.

Some readers are concerned about the increase in food costs if this wage hike is approved: "So you think I will pay 10 dollars for a Big Mac? These demands will not cut into corporate investor profits and with so many unemployed why should they pay more for labor? They don't want better working conditions. They want more money. Dream on. We all want more money," wrote one reader.

Another countered with: "... It's time to acknowledge that costs have risen to the point where $15/hr. is not much anymore. Prices have been rising steadily over the last 20-30 years, but what about wages? You don't think the profits of these companies justify an ability to pay $15/hr.? ... These people work hard to serve us what they do and they deserve a little more than poverty wages."

Fast Food Forward's press release noted that workers are "fighting to support their families and put money back into the economy, instead of relying on taxpayers to shoulder the burden for the industry's low-wages."

Employees at NYC area McDonalds, Burger King, Papa John's, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, Wendy's and Domino's are currently trying to form a Fast Food Workers Committee.

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Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with, and has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine.
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