In Drive to Unionize, Fast-Food Workers Walk Off the Job

Fast-food workers at several restaurants in New York walked off the job
on Thursday, firing the first salvo in what workplace experts say is the
biggest effort to unionize fast-food workers ever undertaken in the
United States.;amp;_r=0

The campaign — backed by community and civil rights groups, religious
leaders and a labor union — has engaged 40 full-time organizers in
recent months to enlist workers at McDonald’s,,, and other fast-food restaurants across the city.
Leaders of the effort said that workers were walking off the job to
protest what they said were low wages and retaliation against several
workers who have backed the unionization campaign. They said it would be
the first multi-restaurant strike by fast-food workers in American
history, although it was unclear how many workers would walk off the
The first walkout took place at 6:30 a.m. at a
Madison Avenue and 40th Street, where several dozen striking workers
and supporters chanted: “Hey, hey, what do you say? We demand fair pay.”
An organizer of the unionizing campaign said that 14 of the 17
employees scheduled to work the morning shift had gone on strike.

Raymond Lopez, 21, an aspiring actor who has worked at the McDonald’s
for more than two years, showed up on his day off to protest. “In this
job having a union would really be a dream come true,” said Mr. Lopez,
who added that he makes $8.75 an hour. He said that he, and fellow
fast-food workers, were under-compensated. “We don’t get paid for what
we do,” he said. “It really is living in poverty.”

Over the decades there have been occasional efforts to unionize a
fast-food restaurant here or there, but labor experts say there has
never before been an effort to unionize dozens of such restaurants. The
new campaign aims in part to raise low-end wages and reduce, and is also an uphill battle to win union recognition.
Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the City University of New York,
said there had been so few efforts to unionize fast-food workers because
it was such a daunting challenge.
“These jobs have extremely high turnover, so by the time you get around
to organizing folks, they’re not on the job anymore,” she said.
Nonetheless, she said the new effort might gain traction because it is
taking place in New York, a city with deep union roots where many
workers are sympathetic to unions.
Christine C. Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council who has
struggled with various measures intended to improve wages and working
conditions in the city, expressed support for fast-food workers.
“I support fast food restaurant workers’ rights to organize and fight
for decent wages,’' Ms. Quinn wrote in a Twitter message on Thursday
Jonathan Westin, organizing director at,
a community group that is playing a central role in the effort, said
hundreds of workers had already voiced support for the campaign, called
Fast Food Forward.
“The fast-food industry employs tens of thousands of workers in New York
and pays them poverty wages,” Mr. Westin said. “A lot of them can’t
afford to get by. A lot have to rely on public assistance, and taxpayers
are often footing the bill because these companies are not paying a
living wage.” The minimum wage in New York State is $7.25 an hour.

Mr. Westin said the campaign was using techniques that differed from
those in most unionization drives, and was still developing overall
strategy. He declined to say whether it would pursue unionization
through elections or by getting workers to sign a majority of cards
backing a union.
McDonald’s issued a statement about the incipient unionization push.
“McDonald’s values our employees and has consistently remained committed
to them, so in turn they can provide quality service to our customers,”
the company said.
It added that the company had an “an open dialogue with our employees”
and always encouraged them to express any concerns “so we can continue
to be an even better employer.” McDonald’s noted that most of its
restaurants were owned and operated by franchisees “who offer pay and
benefits competitive within the” industry.