NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Fast food workers nationwide are taking a stand and staging their largest strike to date, calling for higher wages and the right to form a union without retaliation.
Several hundred protesters marched in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday morning. Some demonstrators also streamed into the McDonald’s across from the Empire State Building.
They were joined by elected officials, including City Councilwoman Letitia James and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Most entry-level fast food workers make the federal minimum wage, which is just over $7 an hour, amounting to about $15,000 a year. Workers are demanding more than double — $15 hour an hour at around $31,000 a year.
Fast food is a $200 billion a year industry, but many workers say they’re left practically starving.
“You have CEOs that are tripling their pay and you have the workers who make the money for these corporations living in poverty,” one striker said.
“It’s not only me, it’s hundreds and thousands of people across the city that is not surviving on minimum wage. It’s really not working,” striker and KFC worker Shanida Simon said.
“We are having families we are trying to support, so it’s important for us to stick together to get change,” striker Kaye Smith said.
James said the fast food jobs are a larger component of the economy.
“The fastest growing industry in the city has been fast food restaurants and retail. And it’s a race to the bottom,” she told WCBS 880′s Paul Murnane.
Fast food worker Shaniqua Davis said they’re out to make a point.
“I would like to see one of those big bosses come down from their offices and come and live our life for at least one month, and I guarantee they would agree with us when we say we want $15 and to form our own union,” she told Murnane.
Quinn, a Democratic hopeful for mayor, has said the fast food industry must recognize the workers’ right to form a union.
Fast food workers began striking in November.
Thursday’s strike marks the largest coordinated effort ever by fast food workers; walk-outs were planned in at least 50 cities across the country.
Major chains like McDonald’s and Burger King say higher wages could mean higher prices on the menu.
In a statement, Burger King said in part, “As a corporation, we respect the rights of all workers; however, Burger King Corp. does not make hiring, firing or other employment-related decisions for our franchisees.”
McDonald’s released a statement, reading in part, “McDonald’s aims to offer competitive pay and benefits to our employees. Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald’s and went on to successful careers.”
There are more than 50,000 fast food workers in New York City alone.
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