August 30, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Low-wage workers taking part in the latest multi-city walkout of fast food outlets across the country on Thursday, took on critics who claim that the existing minimum wage is just fine for the unattached teens that invariably flip burgers and work the cash registers. (Watch Video)
“I know I look young, but I’m touching 30,” Burger King employee Tamara Green said at a boisterous Union Square rally held this week.
According to Green, who is one semester away from graduating college, many of her co-workers already hold degrees, but nevertheless have been unable to find jobs outside of the ever-expanding, multi-billion-dollar fast food industry.
“I know college graduates who stand next to me and make a burger,” Green said. “They say if you’re educated you can get anywhere. A lot of us have all that. A lot of us graduated high school. A lot of us are extremely intelligent. A lot of us are not doing this for a new pair of sneakers.”
Naquasia LaGrand, an outspoken fast food employee who works at two KFC outlets in Brooklyn and Queens, also said that many of her co-workers are highly accomplished people who still find they have to rely on burger-flipping jobs to pay the bills.
“We don’t want to be here all our lives," LaGrand said. "But at the same time, we all have responsibilities to take care of."
Coming on the heels of the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington, New York City Councilwoman and public advocate candidate Letitia James characterized Thursday’s Union Square rally as part of the ongoing fight for “economic justice.”
“They [critics] would like to believe that fast food workers are primarily teenagers,” James said. “They are not. They are primarily women with children who are struggling to make ends meet.”
Cheri Kroon, associate minister of the Flatbush Reformed Church in Brooklyn, said that many of the people who utilize the services of the soup kitchen run by the venerable house of worship, are low-wage workers who simply cannot make it on $7.25 an hour, or less.
“Depending on where you live, people are use to seeing a young person behind the counter,” Kroon said. “But that is not the majority of people working fast food today. The majority of people working fast food today are depending on that paycheck to not only support them, but often children as well.”
Thursday’s Union Square rally – capping off the 4th fast food worker strike since last November – attracted numerous elected officials and others hoping to emerge victorious on Primary Day, September 10.
Mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio backed the drive seeking to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and called the plight of fast food workers “an injustice that cannot stand.”
“If I have the honor of being mayor of New York City, I will have the honor of standing with you at rallies like this until you get the justice you deserve,” de Blasio said. “It’s not even something we have to think twice about. People need a decent wage to feed their families. People need decent benefits.”
Héctor Figueroa, head of the 150,000-member-strong 32BJ SEIU, predicted that fast food workers will emerge victorious in their fight for “15 and a union,” and that ultimately, low-wage workers everywhere will become organized.
“We will win,” Figueroa said. “You have the support of the labor movement.”