Fast-food workers in New York City are expected to walk off their jobs Thursday, one year after their first strike, joining a 100-city strike wave. Organizers say actions will take place all across the country as part of the movement for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.
In New York City, there are more than 57,000 fast-food workers, and the median wage is $8.89/hour, the lowest of any occupation in the city.
With support from union groups such as the Service Employees International Union, the fast-food protests have dramatically grown over the course of the last year. The early protests in New York City in November grew to thousands of protesters waging actions in seven other cities during the summer. An August strike spread to more than fifty cities, including areas in the South that have historically been hostile to union actions.
This Thursday, there will be more new strike locations in Charleston, South Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Mary Coleman, known to her co-workers as Ms. Mary, works at a Popeye’s in Milwaukee for $7.25 an hour. Coleman, 59, lives with her daughter, who has a heart condition, and her two grandchildren. She also relies on food stamps to make ends meet and says she would gladly trade in her Qwest card for higher wages. Thursday marks Mary’s fourth strike. Previously, she walked off the job on May 15, August 1 and August 29.
“I’m tired of working for $7.25,” Coleman says. “I can’t take care of my household, I can’t even take care of myself.”
Little amenities many individuals take for granted, such as deodorant, are unaffordable for Coleman on fast-food low wages.
“Every day struggles are being able to keep food on the table, being able to get the necessities that’s needed for every day living…. And then if you need to go to the doctor, you can’t afford that either.”
Coleman says she is inspired by the organizing of low-wage workers in other states.
“I’m very excited about it, and it lets me know people can come together and do what’s right,” she says.
Some workers Coleman’s age might consider protesting a job for younger people, but she felt compelled to join the strikes, if only to show apathetic youth that change is possible.
“If we sit back and leave everything to the younger generation, we’ll never get anywhere,” she says. “At this point, it seems like a majority of the younger generation thinks that their voices don’t matter. I want to let them know that their voice does matter.”
Danielle, 23, is a fast food worker at Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’n Biscuits in Charleston who will be going on strike
Danielle has worked at Bojangles for four years, started as a cashier and is now a manager making $11 an hour, and though she makes more than entry-level position workers, she still can’t survive on her wages. Over the past year, Danielle’s mother, father, and grandmother have all passed away, so she is now struggling to support herself.