Fast Food Workers Walk Out Demanding Living-Wages and Union Recognition

Wage and employment lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report of recent walk-outs by fast food workers in New York City. Thousands of these employees are fighting for the right to organize and for a decent living standard – although many of them work full-time, they often face evictions and many are living in homeless shelters.

The most recent walk-out occurred on April 4, 2013, which marked the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Dr. King was in Memphis, Tennessee at the time of his death, leading sanitation workers in their fight for decent living wages and the right to unionize. Like these sanitation workers, most of the NYC employees have to rely on welfare and food stamps just to put food on their tables. Many of the workers carried the same signs these sanitation workers campaigned with, declaring simply, “I am a man.”

Twelve days after Dr. King was assassinated, Memphis agreed to recognize the sanitation workers’ union and raised their wages. The NYC employees, of which there are about 50,000, hope to see the same victory. The workers are employees of Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and other similar establishments. Most of them are immigrants or minorities, earning an average of $7.25 an hour.

New York City is among the most expensive cities in the world, and the workers are asking for just enough to survive – $15 an hour. Their first walk-out was in November, which was organized with the help of labor organizations like New York Communities of Change, Make the Road New York, and NYC Central Labor Council, to name only a few. The chief of staff to Councilman James Sanders Jr. also joined the action to support the workers.

These workers helped organize a movement called Fast Food Forward. On its website, it claims to join the efforts of the Walmart employees who organized on Black Friday, along with other low-wage American workers who are struggling to get by. The site highlights that the average fast food worker’s salary is about $11,000 a year. To put this in perspective, the average daily earnings of many of fast food’s CEOs is about $25,000, more than double what their employees make in a year. The industry annually grosses about $200 billion, however, its workers make only 25% of what they need to survive in NYC.

The Walmart strike of 2012 was the first-ever retail worker strike. In that year, one employee, a former assistant manager, won a lawsuit against the giant in the amount of $1.49 million. In her suit she alleged that she was verbally abused by the store manager, that the abuse was so extensive that she experienced physical symptoms and that the manager was abusing other female employees as well.

Walmart has also been accused of gender and religious discrimination. In June 2012, the company agreed to pay $70,000 to a Mormon employee after he was threatened with termination for observing a religious holiday. Since 2009 there have been more than 3,000 federal lawsuits filed against Walmart, 12% of them involving issues with employment.

Additionally, the California-based fast food chain In-N-Out Burger was recently hit with a class-action lawsuit filed by two men, alleging that the company discriminates against potential employees on the basis of race, color, and age. In another case, Burger King was recently ordered to pay $2.5 million to settle claims of sexual harassment. Nearly 90 women were involved in the suit, alleging that they were victims of various acts of undignified treatment. Claims ranged from illegal strip searches to incidents of rape. The lawsuit lasted 14 years in court.

The Fast Food Forward petition currently has more than 120,000 signatures, and has about 400 workers on strike. Workers are claiming they are habitually overworked, underpaid, and disrespected. A parallel effort is currently being organized in Chicago.

Wage and employment lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm encourage anyone being mistreated – whether through unfair or uncompensated wages, discrimination, or harassment – to get in touch with a skilled attorney as soon as possible. Employees may be compensated for any back wages and for the suffering endured from mistreatment.

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