After more than two and a half years of strikes and rallies, hundreds of fast food and other minimum wage workers were able to put their hardships on the record when the Fast Food Wage Board convened in New York City, asking for a $15 minimum wage and right to unionize.
This was the second meeting of the Wage board, which was empanelled in May at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request. The board has two more public meetings to hear testimony through the end of June. After that, the board is expected to issue recommendations within three months. The minimum wage raise would not require legislative approval.
“I just never thought I’d live to see the day that this would happen,” said Jorel Ware, a 31-year-old McDonald’s worker very involved in the Fight for 15 movement, and whom Metro readers first met last December.
“I work for a billion dollar company, and it seems like I get deeper and deeper into poverty … Sometimes I sit on my step … what is my purpose here? I’m out of answers,” Ware said.
Ware said after his three minutes of testimony that he felt “wonderful” and just “spoke from the top of his head.”
“You can’t practice pain,” Ware added.
Many of the fast food workers testified about sharing cramped apartments with numerous other family members and still not being able to afford their rent, and having to choose between taking care of sick family members and clocking in. Many believed $15 an hour would restore their "dignity."
In written testimony submitted to the wage board, Mayor Bill de Blasio “urge[d] the Wage Board to grant fast food workers the right of a living wage” and said raising the minimum wage is the surest way to combat income inequality.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer rallied with fast food workers and other elected officials at Judson Church ahead of the hearing. A report released by Stringer’s office on Sunday found a $15 minimum wage would benefit about 180,000 workers in New York City and increase wages by $1.5 billion a year.
Two franchise owners testified that the wage increase would hurt their businesses.
Former mayor Michael Bloomberg told Metro earlier this year that he has “always thought that raising the minimum wage is not an intelligent policy” although it is “good politics” to support the increase.
Seattle and San Francisco have recently moved to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour. On Saturday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a bill that will increase the minimum wage to $15 over the next five years.
New York State's minimum wage is $8.75 and set to raise to $9 by the end of the year.