Calling for higher wages and the right to form a union, fast food workers walked off the job and staged strikes at chains across the five boroughs Monday as part of a seven-city movement this week. The protests culminated in the afternoon with hundreds of fast food workers and advocates holding a rally in Union Square.
"We don't get paid enough to pay rent, basic expenses," said Tanya Hernandez, a 24-year-old mother from the South Bronx who works 36 hours a week at a Midtown McDonald's.
Hernandez and several of her colleagues walked out of work Monday morning, launching a series of protests and marches the rest of the day in New York and across the country. Hundreds of workers in the city called for $15 an hour—roughly double the minimum wage—and the ability to form a union without retaliation.
"For $7.25 we have to do a lot of work," Hernandez said, who works full-time at the McDonald's to care for her 6-year-old son. "Sometimes we got to work in 90-degree heat and there's no A/C."
Local leaders and other politicians running for office joined the workers at several of the protests.
Congressman Jerry Nadler noted the discrepancy between industry profits and workers' wages.
"These are some of the most profitable companies in the United States," Nadler said.
In response to the demonstrations, Scott DeFife, an executive vice president at the National Restaurant Association, said the industry provides more than 13 million job opportunities to Americans in all backgrounds.
"Significant additional labor costs can negatively impact a restaurant's ability to hire or maintain jobs," DeFife added.
Ricky Padin, 24, works two full-time jobs at separate McDonald's restaurants to help care for his family. Last week, managers gave him a 15-cent raise at one of the locations.
"It's not enough for a person to live. That's too low for the city," said the Bronx resident, who now makes $7.40 an hour.
In front of a Downtown Wendy's, striking workers and advocates shouted at the lunch crowd going into the restaurant.
Kaye Smith, a student who works at the Wendy's, said she lives with her parents to make ends meet.
"Just the Metro card to get to work takes half my check," said the 18-year-old Brownsville, Brooklyn, resident. She said many of her coworkers are on food stamps to survive.
Shenita Simon has worked as a shift-supervisor at a Brooklyn KFC for nearly two years before getting a raise.
"They gave me a 25 cent raise to shut me up," said Simon, who has three young children and cares for her mother. Her husband has a part-time job.
"It's time for someone to speak up," she said.
Hernandez was optimistic their voices would be heard.
"Hopefully it does help," Hernandez said, adding that, like many of the other workers, she would have to return to work Tuesday.
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