NYC Fast Food Workers Strike, Demand 107 Percent Raise

Fast Food workers strike on anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination.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.

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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.

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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.

With reporting by Claire Gordon and Muneeza Iqbal.

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