Making good on their vow to step up the pressure on national quick-service chains, hundreds of New York hourly restaurant workers, led by a group called Fast Food Forward, returned to the picket lines Thursday, repeating their demands for higher wages and the ability to form a union.
Organizers estimate that some 400 New York quick-service workers held strikes at more than 60 restaurants around the city, picketing such brands as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Domino’s and KFC.
Scenes from New York strike 
Calling it the largest strike against the quick-service industry ever assembled in New York, Fast Food Forward — a local movement formed by a coalition of community and labor groups — said today’s event drew twice as many participants as the original one-day strike did in November, 2012.
At a late morning rally in front of a Wendy’s restaurant on West 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan, scores of workers crowded the sidewalk, holding signs and chanting such slogans as “Hey hey, ho ho, minimum wage has got to go,” “We can’t survive on $7.25,” and “What’s outrageous? Those low wages.”
A steady stream of speakers urged the strikers on, calling for solidarity and protesting that New Yorkers can’t live on poverty-level wages of $7.25 an hour.
Camille Rivera, an organizer with UnitedNY.org, said the workers had walked off the job to demand better pay and more respect. “They’re paid low wages and get no benefits,” she said. “We need to tell these giant companies that enough is enough.”
Linda Archer, an employee at the McDonald’s location on West 42nd Street, said she was picketing for better benefits, a wage of $15 an hour, respect, the ability to unionize without fear of retaliation and job security. She said she had been working for McDonald’s for three years and was only making $8.05.
Archer’s colleague at McDonald’s, Elizabeth Castro, said she had received only one 15-cent raise in the two-and-a-half years she had been working there. “Everything is going up but our wages,” she said.
McDonald’s, however, commenting on the strike, said it offers more lucrative opportunities for hourly workers to pursue a career within the company.
“We value and respect all the employees who work at McDonald's restaurants,” the company said in a statement. “The majority of McDonald’s restaurants in New York and across the country are owned and operated by independent business men and women.
“Both our company and franchised-owned restaurants work hard every day to treat McDonald's employees with dignity and respect. Employees are paid competitive wages and have access to a range of benefits to meet their individual needs.
“In addition, employees who want to go from crew to management can take advantage of a variety of training and professional development opportunities,” McDonald’s said.
Due to the foodservice industry’s high turnover rate, unions have been historically unsuccessful in their efforts to organize restaurant staffs. However, some experts predict that this is about to end as more unions — many of whom have seen their membership rosters decline over the years — step up their efforts to organize foodservice workers.
For example, while Fast Food Forward is New York-centric, restaurants in Chicago are now keeping an eye on a similar organization called the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, whose website, fightfor15.org , says it is fighting for the same wages and benefits as Fast Food Forward.
Meanwhile, Fast Food Forward expects to continue its local efforts, said Jonathan Westin, organizing director of New York Communities for Change, one of the chief organizers of Fast Food Forward. In an earlier interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, Westin said Fast Food Forward is planning “new actions, rallies and press conferences — all sorts of actions this year.”
Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected] .
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