I serve fast food, and I’m striking for my family
A McDonald’s cashier explains why she walked off the job
by Linda Archer
New York Daily News
Sunday, December 2, 2012
This Black Friday, I wasn’t searching the shelves for deals. I was working the cash register at the McDonald’s on 42nd St. just off Broadway. And seeing all of those shoppers out buying gifts for their loved ones made me sad — because it reminded me that fast-food wages aren’t enough, even on the most deeply discounted day of the year.
I earn $8 an hour — which is more than many of my co-workers, who earn minimum wage — but it’s hardly enough to cover my rent and bills, much less leave anything for Christmas presents.
But more than that, the fix I’m in reveals a growing problem with New York City’s economy: that many of our city’s businesses aren’t paying their workers enough to be customers.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
That’s why on Thursday, I joined with hundreds of fast-food workers to walk off the job and call for wages we can afford to live on. For the first time ever, storefront staff at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other chains are coming together to demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union without interference.
At restaurants in Times Square, lower Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and throughout the city, we stepped out from behind the counter because we believe this city will be a better place when jobs pay enough for working people to meet basic needs. For that to happen, the highly profitable, $200 billion-a-year fast food industry (that’s in the U.S. alone), which employs 4 million Americans, has to change.
Fifteen dollars an hour would make a huge difference in my life. I’m 59 and have been working at McDonald’s for almost three years. When I started, they told me that we’d get a raise every six months. That hasn’t happened.
With more money, I could afford to go back to school. I could find a better apartment for me and my 80-year-old mother. I could pay my bills and buy Christmas presents.
I’m not alone. Some 50,000 New Yorkers are employed by fast-food chains as cashiers, janitors, storage clerks and cooks. The number of these low-wage food service jobs is growing as fast as any sector of our economy.
The state minimum wage is $7.25; according to official government statistics, the median hourly wage for New York food service and prep workers is $8.90 an hour. The stereotype is that most of those earning these paychecks are young people trying to get themselves through school or pay the cell phone bill.
That’s incorrect. We are people like Gregory, a 53-year-old KFC worker earning $8.20 an hour who hasn’t gotten a raise since 1998, and Joshua, 28, a stocker for Wendy’s earning $7.25 per hour and not getting enough hours to pay rent, school loans and support his newborn son.
We know change is possible. We’ve seen low-wage workers win victories before. Janitors and cafeteria workers who’ve come together by forming a union already make double what we do.
But in fast food, we’ve been stuck fending for ourselves. Some of our managers have even threatened to withhold pay unless employees sign statements promising not to ask for a raise. Another McDonald’s worker was suspended for trying to get his co-workers to sign a petition in support of our campaign.
We will not go away. I have high hopes that next Christmas, or a Christmas very soon, large fast-food chains will be paying enough so workers can give our loved ones the gifts they want, which will help give our city’s economy the growth it needs.
Archer works at McDonald’s and lives in the Bronx.