Early Thursday, Alterique Hall should have been inside a Midtown Manhattan McDonald's, making burgers. Instead, he stood outside chanting, "We can't survive on $7.25." A McDonald's server for three years, the 24-year-old Hall is participating in a city-wide strike of fast food workers. The chief demand: To raise wages to $15 an hour. By noon, the strike organizers, Fast Food Forward, a coalition of labor activists and workers, confirmed to AOL Jobs that the early turnout meant that the day represented the largest organized action ever for fast food workers.
"We are sick and tired of working like this everyday," Hall tells AOL Jobs, noting he works 30 to 39 hours a week and so doesn't receive benefits. He says all the servers at his McDonald's branch are kept part-time so that the company doesn't have to pay benefits. He earns $8 an hour, but the organizers, Fast Food Forward, a coalition of labor activists and workers, say fast food workers make anywhere from minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $9, which results in an annual salary of about $18,000 a year. The strikers, who are currently not a member of any union, also are demanding full-time hours and benefits.
The rally is slated to take place at 70 fast food outlets throughout the city on Thursday, including at branches of Burger King and Wendy's. Thursday is also the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which took place in Memphis, a day after King delivered his speech, "I've Been To The Mountaintop" in defense of the city's striking sanitation workers. Organizers are expecting some 400 workers to take part by day's end. Roughly 100 people were at the morning rally at McDonald's branch at 51st and Seventh Avenue, but most were organizers -- not workers, according to organizers. Hall said his colleagues are "intimidated, so they keep working."
Reached by e-mail, McDonald spokeswoman Lisa Labrado defended the company's pay scale.
"Employees are paid competitive wages and have access to a range of benefits to meet their individual needs," she wrote in an e-mail to AOL Jobs.
The day of action is a follow up to similar organizing back in November, when about 200 fast food workers took part in a citywide strike, which was the first such strike of its kind, experts said at the time.
Hall, who is single, says his wage is barely enough to support him. He says he struggles to have enough money on hand for his subway commute and is forced to get by on eating Ramen noodles.
In speaking to AOL Jobs, Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, one of the main sponsors of the strike, explained why asking for a doubling workers' wages is a reasonable request. (New York legislators have recently agreed to raise the state minimum to $9 by 2016.)
"This is the most expensive city in the country. Fifteen dollars is the minimum for what you need to get by," he said, adding, "It's not reasonable for multibillion corporations who are making record profits to pay this little."
Some surviving members of the Memphis protests are slated to participate in Thursday's protests. In another tribute to the late Dr. King, the organizers have also sought to include local clergy members in the protest. And roughly 100 religious officials have joined the protests, according to the New York Times.
Much of the recent activism surrounding the fast food workers harkens back to the rhetoric and philosophy of the Occupy Movement, launched in the fall of 2011. In addition to holding up workers' salaries in relation to that of the management, the labor activism is seeking to advocate for groups of workers like fast food employees who in the past have not been the focus of the labor movement. (According to report by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner, who has since left the company, earned $8.75 million last year.)
Hall, for his part, is not hoping to make a career out of his job at McDonald's. After finishing high school, the New York-native studied at both a culinary and barber school. But in a difficult economy, he was unable to land a job, and so started working at McDonald's, back in 2010, thinking he'd only be there for six months.
NYC Fast Food Workers Strike, Demand 107 Percent Raise
Average Salary: $23,900 No. of Openings: 195,000 Job Satisfaction: HIGH
Those who work in security frequently praise the occupation's flexible hours (lots of night and 12-hour shifts result in more days off) and recommend it for people who don't mind working alone. Still, it's a job that can be particularly stressful to the psyche as well as the body. Security guards must remain alert to protect against and prevent fire hazards, larceny, vandalism, and other emergency situations and illegal activity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that security guards experience more on-the-job injury than the national average for all professions; gaming surveillance officers specifically have one of the highest injury rates. Too bad the pay is so paltry for those making security their full-time gig. In 2011, the average median salary for a security guard was just $23,900.
Average Salary: $28,470 No. of Openings: 71,400 Job Satisfaction: HIGH
A sports coach trains either amateur or professional athletes for competition. But he or she also serves as an adviser, parent, teacher, and confidante for his or her team. The most-renowned in the profession -- the Bela Karolyis, the John Maddens, and the Pat Rileys -- have earned impressive salaries that came with adulation as well as endorsement deals. But most of the 242,900 professionals working in the field currently aren't coaching on that level, nor are they earning that type of pay. And the adulation they most mention to Glassdoor comes from the impressionable young people they coach on the secondary and collegiate level.
Average Salary: $29,100 No. of Openings: 162,900 Job Satisfaction: MEDIUM
The approximately 530,000 medical assistants employed in doctors' offices and larger medical organizations must do a mix of traditional office operations work and hands-on medical tasks. They take patient histories, assist in patient examinations, change wound dressings, and help with sterilizing equipment. Often, they're the first and last people a patient sees when visiting a doctor's office, so medical assistants play a substantial part in the overall patient-care experience. In recent years, a medical assistant's people skills and practical skills have been complemented by technological skills, since most patient records are now digitized. The multifaceted nature of responsibilities hasn't resulted in substantially higher pay, however. In 2011, the BLS reported a median salary for medical assistants that's $12,573 less than the national average.
Average Salary: $31,030 No. of Openings: 124,700 Job Satisfaction: HIGH
"There is a lot of satisfaction in helping people," writes one assistant department head to Glassdoor about working at Minnesota's Life Time Fitness club. Another recreation and fitness professional with Urban Active Fitness in Lexington, Ken., appreciates "The people you'll meet and relationships you'll start." So it's no surprise that as a whole, recreation and fitness occupations—aerobics instructors, camp counselors, and personal trainers—receive a boost on our Best Jobs list for their reported personal perks. The chance to be physically active and forgo a traditional 9-to-5 schedule also help boost these occupations' curb appeal. But fitness trainers earned an average $31,030 in 2011, according to the BLS. That's more than $10,000 less than the national average median wage.
Average Salary: $31,870 No. of Openings: 118,500 Job Satisfaction: HIGH
Today's administrative assistants have evolved beyond juggling phone messages and transcribing meeting minutes. They must now be thoroughly organized, have excellent writing and editing skills, and display a knack for multitasking. Often, admin professionals fulfill the roles of project managers, secret keepers, daily planners, customer service reps, and tech support. And despite wearing so many hats around the office, the more than 2 million employed administrative assistants were earning a salary that's well below the national average -- $30,830 in 2010. In 2011, they earned about $31,870. Corporate culture and outstanding office benefits -- but not compensation -- were the key contributors to this occupation securing such lofty scores for job satisfaction.
Average Salary: $39,070 No. of Openings: 45,000 Job Satisfaction: HIGH
The mercurial economy hasn't made a real estate agent's profession an easy one. Still, the BLS predicts approximately 45,000 openings in this occupation between now and 2020, thanks to population growth. Agents have to stay abreast to the local zoning and tax laws of various communities, plus keep a pulse on the atmosphere in communities where they might do business. Keeping tabs on market conditions is another crucial element of their occupation. This is also a job that requires copious paperwork and patience, but it's not a job that comes with copious spending change. Though the profession's highest-paid earned around $92,000 in 2011, a real estate agent's average salary was less than $40,000 that year. Some tell Glassdoor that they find reward in helping people find homes. For others, they appreciate the chance to make their own flexible schedule.
Average Salary: $40,680 No. of Openings: 58,200 Job Satisfaction: HIGH
The stakes are higher when a social worker has a bad day. The average, coddled office employee might become discouraged when the copier jams or the instant coffee machine goes on the fritz. But for a children, family and school social worker, a "bad day" could entail reporting suspected child abuse, having a proposed adoption fall through, or witnessing a parent losing custody of their children. Despite the high stress, social workers report to Glassdoor that they like working with people, and get a thrill out of positively impacting the lives of others. Their tender hearts don't translate to loads of legal tender, though. The BLS reports that a social worker's median salary was $40,680 in 2011, just shy of the national average wage.