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November 2012, Week 5

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NY Fast Food Workers Organizing

1)  In Drive to Unionize, Fast-Food Workers Walk Off the Job
2)  New York Fast Food Workers Walk Off the Job


1)  In Drive to Unionize, Fast-Food Workers Walk Off the Job

The New York Times

By Stephan Greenhouse

November 28, 2012

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/nyregion/drive-to-unionize-fast-food-workers-opens-in-ny.html?_r=2&


After three years of working at the McDonald's
restaurant on 51st Street and Broadway, Alterique Hall
earns $8 an hour -- and is yearning for something
better.

So when he heard about an unusual campaign that aims to
unionize dozens of fast-food restaurants in New York in
the hope of raising wages to $15 an hour, Mr. Hall, 23,
was quick to sign on.

"It's time for a change," he said, "It's time to put on
the gloves."

Mr. Hall has enlisted in what workplace experts say is
the biggest effort to unionize fast-food workers ever
undertaken in the United States, a campaign that will
be announced publicly on Thursday. The effort -- backed
by community and civil rights groups, religious leaders
and a labor union -- has engaged 40 full-time organizers
in recent months to enlist workers at McDonald's,
Wendy's, Domino's, Taco Bell and other fast-food
restaurants across the city.

Over the decades there have been occasional efforts to
unionize a fast-food restaurant here or there, but
labor experts say there has never before been an effort
to unionize dozens of such restaurants. The new
campaign aims in part to raise low-end wages and reduce
income inequality, and is also an uphill battle to win
union recognition.

Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the City
University of New York, said there had been so few
efforts to unionize fast-food workers because it was
such a daunting challenge.

"These jobs have extremely high turnover, so by the
time you get around to organizing folks, they're not on
the job anymore," she said. Nonetheless, she said the
new effort might gain traction because it is taking
place in New York, a city with deep union roots where
many workers are sympathetic to unions.

Jonathan Westin, organizing director at New York
Communities for Change, a community group that is
playing a central role in the effort, said hundreds of
workers had already voiced support for the campaign,
called Fast Food Forward.

"The fast-food industry employs tens of thousands of
workers in New York and pays them poverty wages," Mr.
Westin said. "A lot of them can't afford to get by. A
lot have to rely on public assistance, and taxpayers
are often footing the bill because these companies are
not paying a living wage."

Mr. Westin said the campaign was using techniques that
differed from those in most unionization drives, and
was still developing overall strategy. He declined to
say whether it would pursue unionization through
elections or by getting workers to sign a majority of
cards backing a union.

McDonald's issued a statement about the incipient
unionization push. "McDonald's values our employees and
has consistently remained committed to them, so in turn
they can provide quality service to our customers," the
company said.

It added that the company had an "an open dialogue with
our employees" and always encouraged them to express
any concerns "so we can continue to be an even better
employer." McDonald's noted that most of its
restaurants were owned and operated by franchisees "who
offer pay and benefits competitive within the"
industry.

Even with a union, it might be hard to obtain wages of
$15 an hour, and many employers say they would most
likely employ fewer workers if they had to pay that
much.

Mr. Westin's group, New York Communities for Change,
has played a major role in the recent uptick in
unionizing low-wage workers in New York, many of whom
are immigrants. In the past three months, his group has
helped win unionization votes at four carwashes and six
supermarkets in New York.

The sponsors of the fast-food campaign also include

UnitedNY.org, the Black Institute and the Service
Employees International Union, a powerful union that is
playing a quiet but important role behind the scenes.

Several religious leaders are backing the effort. "I've
become involved because it is primarily a matter of
justice," said the Rev. Michael Walrond of the First
Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem. "We seek to
protect those who are the most vulnerable in our
culture, and some of the most vulnerable people in the
city are fast-food workers who work for poverty wages."

According to the State Labor Department, median pay for
fast-food workers in the city is around $9 an hour -- or
about $18,500 a year for a full-time worker.

Linda Archer, a cashier at the McDonald's on 42nd
Street just west of Times Square, said she wished she
earned that much. She earns $8 an hour after three
years there and averages 24 hours a week, she said,
meaning her pay totals about $10,000 a year.

"I feel I deserve $15 an hour," said Ms. Archer, 59. "I
work very hard." She said she hoped a union would
deliver affordable health insurance and paid sick days.

"My hope is we can all come together in a union without
being intimidated," she said.

TCB Management, the franchisee that operates Mr. Hall's
McDonald's, and Lewis Foods, which runs Ms. Archer's,
did not respond to inquiries.

Tim McIntyre, a Domino's Pizza spokesman, said the few
efforts to unionize its stores and drivers had fallen
flat.

"It's a fairly high-turnover position, so there's never
been a successful union effort," he said. "People who
are doing this part time, seasonally or as they work
their way through college don't find much interest in
membership."

Richard W. Hurd, a labor relations professor at
Cornell, said the organizations backing the fast-food
campaign seemed intent on finding pressure points to
push the restaurants to improve wages and benefits.

"But it's going to be a lot harder for them to win
union recognition," he said. "It will be harder to
unionize them than carwash workers because the parent
companies will fight hard against it, because they
worry if you unionize fast-food outlets in New York,
that's going to have a lot of ramifications elsewhere."


2)  New York Fast Food Workers Walk Off the Job

Alexandra Bradbury

November 29, 2012

Labor Notes

http://labornotes.org/2012/11/new-york-fast-food-workers-walk-job


Fast food workers rallied outside a Madison Avenue
McDonald's early this morning. Hundreds of New Yorkers
took part in today's one-day strike, the debut action
of a cross-company Fast Food Organizing Committee.

"Good morning! I'm on strike!" shouted McDonald's
worker Darryl Young on a crowded Manhattan sidewalk at
7 am today, as supporters rallied outside the Madison
Avenue fast food outlet where he works. "Wanna know
why? $7.25!"

Close on the heels of last week's high-profile Walmart
walkouts, fast food workers across New York City staged
a one-day strike today, calling for a raise and an end
to anti-union retaliation.

Organizers said hundreds of workers struck at dozens of
fast food locations this morning. The action marks the
public debut of a cross-company Fast Food Organizing
Committee that includes workers from not just
McDonald's but also Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell,
KFC, Wendy's, Domino's, and Papa John's.

The idea is to take on the whole fast food industry,
which employs 50,000 workers in New York City, said
Jonathan Westin, organizing director of the ACORN
successor community organization that is supporting the
drive, New York Communities for Change.

"A typical campaign is not going to bring Ronald
McDonald to the table," Westin said. "This is dozens of
stores around the city with workers going on strike on
the same day. That's the type of organizing that's
needed."

'1, 2, 3, 4, Time for You to Pay More'

After two years working at McDonald's, Young is making
only $7.25 an hour, New York State's minimum wage.

That makes it tough to support his two daughters, he
said, and many of his co-workers rely on Section 8
housing assistance, welfare, and food stamps to get by,
while the corporation they work for makes billions in
profit.

That's why Young joined the organizing committee a
couple of months ago. He and a friend have been meeting
daily and approaching fellow employees at the store "to
see if they want to get down with the union," he said.

Westin said workers are circulating a petition calling
for $15 an hour and the right to unionize without
reprisal. The strategy of walking out against
retaliation, without first gaining a recognized union,
echoes similar recent actions by Walmart retail and
warehouse workers.

Management's counterattack has already begun.
McDonald's employee Diego Delgado, an immigrant from
Colombia, said his store's general manager pulled
everyone together for a union-bashing meeting
yesterday. Workers huddled for their own meeting
outside afterwards.

Speaking through a translator, Delgado explained that
his position as a manager (but not a general manager)
means he has no steady schedule. He has to cover all
shifts, and there are never enough workers--because
people keep quitting in frustration at the low wages
and demanding work.

Delgado makes just $8.50, after three years working at
McDonald's.

"I'm here for the union," he said at this morning's
rally.

NYCC has 40 organizers working on the campaign, Westin
said. The group has also teamed up with the Retail
Wholesale union on recent organizing drives among
supermarket and carwash workers.

Westin said his group started taking on these workplace
struggles after leaders realized that low-wage jobs
were the biggest obstacle keeping its members in
poverty. And "in the low-wage industry, fast food
dominates," he said.

In addition to NYCC, the coalition supporting the Fast
Food Forward campaign includes the Service Employees
union and the advocacy groups United NY and the Black
Institute. '5, 6, 7, 8, Don't You Dare Retaliate'

Young said he was "a little nervous" to strike today,
but he found the courage because of "the struggle every
day--waking up and coming to a job I don't want to do."

Some fast food workers have already been suspended for
union activity, organizers said, and they expect
further retaliation in the wake of today's action.

If that happens, "we have community, labor, and clergy
ready to stand up and bring workers back to work,"
Westin said.

Irania Sanchez is one such ally. A member of the Latino
and working-class community group Make the Road New
York, she came to this morning's rally in part because
the fight is personal: it brought her closer to her
brother's memory.

Sanchez's brother worked at McDonald's, she explained
through a translator. He told her about the abuses
workers suffered there: how the job demands were
ever-increasing, and people would be fired when they
could not handle new tasks, even after years of loyal
work.

When her brother grew ill, he was fired, Sanchez said.
He later passed away from cancer.

Workers boarded a bus from the Madison Avenue
McDonald's to protest at another fast food location
this morning. Rallies were planned at locations around
the city throughout the day. Organizers said they
expected hundreds to converge at a climactic rally in
Times Square this afternoon.

Westin hopes today's action will inspire more fast food
workers to take the same risk that strikers like Young
and Delgado are taking.

"Our goal is to galvanize as many workers as possible,"
he said. No one is without fear, but "going back and
making $7.25 an hour, and not being able to put food on
the table, is a much harder thing than striking for
better wages."

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