The McJobs Strike Back: Will Fast-Food Workers Ever Get a Living Wage?

April 4, 2013 | | The Atlantic |

Edwin Guzman already lost his job once for union-organizing. But today, he and several hundred fast food workers across New York City are on strike anyway.

A few weeks ago, an organizer with the Fast Food Forward campaign, begun by New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other labor and community groups walked into the Burger King in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where Guzman works. He had a petition with him, calling for a raise to $15-an-hour and union recognition for the workers. Guzman and some of his colleagues signed.

Not long afterward, he had to take a couple of days off for a court date--he was being evicted from his apartment, in part because of his steadily decreasing hours and low pay at his job. Like most of the city's fast food workers, he makes just $7.25 an hour and struggles with irregular scheduling. When he returned to work, his supervisor called him in to talk.

"He told me he had to let me go," Guzman explained. "He felt like I disrespected him. He felt violated that I signed the petition."

But even $9 an hour, the target that President Obama named and that New York will hit in three years, isn't enough to live on in New York City. According to a 2010 report prepared by the Women's Center for Education and Career Advancement, the "self-sufficiency standard" -- how much it costs to live without relying on government subsidies -- for a single adult living in the Bronx (the cheapest borough) was $12.56 an hour; for an adult with one child, that number jumps to $23.39 an hour. And it's worth noting that in the three years since that report, the cost of a MetroCard alone has jumped $23 a month. Further, Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst at nonpartisan think tank Demos, noted that the median rental apartment price in Brooklyn has gone up some seven percent in the past year alone.

Naquasia LeGrand works at KFC on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn and has been part of the fast-food campaign since before the last strike. She noted that even $10 an hour would not be enough to really live on in the city, but said that the victory nonetheless shows how much the hard work she and the others have put into organizing is paying off.

To Traub, the audacious demand is a good sign. "We see a lack of audacity in so many areas that benefit working people, the fact that people have the courage to stand up and ask for frankly what they really deserve, it's very inspiring."