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Fast-food workers: ‘It’s not just wages, we need a union’

Militant/Eric Simpson

Fast-food workers in some 150 cities joined Sept. 4 protests. Above, action in Oakland, Calif.

BY SETH GALINSKY  
Fast-food workers together with union staff and other supporters protested in 150 cities across the United States Sept. 4 demanding a minimum wage of “$15 an hour and a union.”

Among the demonstrators were stalwarts of the organizing campaign, first-time protesters and passersby who joined in.

The protests were organized by the Service Employees International Union. In New York City, hundreds of demonstrators started out with a picket line in front of the McDonald’s restaurant near Times Square. They rallied later in the day and then marched through midtown to another McDonald’s.

“A friend of mine I used to work with at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, Missouri, called me and said I had to get involved, that it’s for real,” said Ashley Wiluy, 26, during the afternoon march. She has worked at a McDonald’s since moving to New York seven months ago. “I have three kids. I need a raise. Everyone has a life to live.”

“Ashley told me about the protest,” said Danny Nyre, 25, who works at Taco Bell, at the march. “I just had to come. It’s going to have a big impact being seen by a lot of people.”

Nyre said some co-workers asked him if he was worried about getting fired. “I tell them it’s my civil right to protest,” he said.

When asked about statements by fast-food restaurant owners that they can’t afford to pay $15 an hour, Nyre said, “That’s just BS. Life is different for them than for us.”

“We work eight hours a day with no breaks,” Carlton Warren, who workers at Jack in the Box, said at a 5 a.m. rally outside the restaurant in Houston. “There are people who have worked here 14 years and still get $7.25 an hour.”

“Conditions are bad,” Luz Meza, who works at Burger King, said at the Houston rally. “The equipment doesn’t work and the ventilation is no good. I got burned and the boss said to put mustard on it. One worker got cut and there were no Band-Aids. There’s no sick, vacation or holiday pay.”

In the Chicago area, nearly 300 people demonstrated in the rain at a McDonald’s in the Cicero neighborhood.

“I earn $8.25 an hour, which is not enough to pay bills,” said Liyah Earl, 19, a worker at McDonald’s.

“It’s not just higher wages, but the right to a union,” Rhonesha Victor told the Oakland, California, rally. “If you only get two hours of work, what’s the use? That’s why we need union protection.” Victor works at KFC/Taco Bell.

In many cities, including New York, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Little Rock, Arkansas, some of the demonstrators sat down in the streets near the restaurants and were arrested in an act of symbolic disobedience.

Restaurant bosses did not like the protests.

“Doubling wages, how is that even a rational conversation?” complained Rob Green, executive director of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, in a statement calling the actions “disturbing” and “irresponsible.”

Dan Fein in Chicago, Eric Simpson in Oakland, and Debbie Lyons in Houston contributed to this article.
 
 
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