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Fast Food Employees Across Country Launch Extensive Walk-Out

low-wage-strikeAcross the U.S., employees in the fast food industry are walking off the job in a gesture of protest against poor pay, wage and hour violations, workplace discrimination, workplace injuries, and other unfair labor practices.

According to Workers Compensation attorneys, employees in large cities like New York, Chicago and Detroit have called for a $15 per hour wage, along with the right to unionize without risking employer retaliation. The movement kicked off Monday in New York City with the support of Fast Food Forward, an advocacy group that has been campaigning to improve conditions for fast food employees.

Hundreds of workers covering an entire city block in New York came together outside a McDonald’s in Union Square on Monday afternoon, displaying signs to the public and chanting “We can’t survive on $7.25,” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, poverty wage has got to go.”

One worker who joined the protest with a 3-year-old child in her arms said she simply couldn’t get by working 24 hours a week at minimum wage at a McDonald’s in the Bronx. In reference to her paycheck, she told reporters “7.25 does not cut it, especially as a mom. I have to sacrifice certain things to get by and sometimes I still don’t cut it.”

Access to Paid Sick Leave

The group also included workers from other restaurants, including Burger King employees like Raysha Colon, who says her vision for service industry workers goes beyond just a wage increase. Colon is pregnant and will need to take maternity leave, but does not have access to any paid time off. This is typical of others in her position as well, with 90% of restaurant workers recently reporting that they have no paid sick leave.

Protesters hope to increase worker access to benefits by expanding union membership across the fast food industry. They conveyed this message in chants such as: “What’s disgusting? Union busting,” while marching from Union Square to the Service Employees International Union on Monday.

Despite her pregnancy, Colon says “I have to keep working there because they won’t help.  I want to get paid more money, I want justice, I want hours, I want help.”

Yesterday’s protests are the third time fast food workers have walked off the job in the past 6 months. The most recent incident occurred last week, when McDonald’s workers in New York City walked off the job after record-high temperatures hit the city and their boss made them work with no air conditioning in the building. One employee collapsed from heat exhaustion during her shift.

New York City fast food workers earned an average $9 per hour on average in 2012, which comes out to approximately $18,500 per year for those who work full-time. Although this is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, it falls shockingly short of the $67,000 a one-parent, one-child family needs to survive in New York City, according the Economic Policy Institute.

Over the past decade, the restaurant industry across the U.S. has added jobs more quickly than the rest of the economy.  Yet despite its growth and soaring profits, employees in the fast food industry earn a mere $150 to $350 per week on average, according to The New York Times. Participants in this week’s protests hope to change those dismal figures.

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Emery Reddy