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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Times
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

City Council Hears Plea From Fast-Food Workers

Naquasia Legrand works at two KFC restaurants — one in Brooklyn, where she earns $7.70 an hour, and another in Queens, where she earns $8 an hour. Last week, she told a New York City Councilcommittee on Thursday, she barely had enough money to buy aMetroCard and to feed herself.

“There comes times when I have to decide if I want to pay my phone bill, pay the rent, or buy food for my family,” said Ms. Legrand, 22, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Canarsie, Brooklyn, with her aunt, grandmother and cousin. “Just because people have jobs these days doesn’t mean they’re doing good.”

Ms. Legrand was among dozens of fast-food restaurant workers and advocates who attended a hearing on low wages and wage theft.

Just before the hearing, about 100 people attended a rally on the steps on City Hall, demanding higher wages for the city’s 50,000 fast-food employees. Together they chanted, “We can’t survive on seven twenty-five,” referring to the minimum wage in New York State.

The economic reality for the city’s fast-food workers is bleak. According to the advocacy group New York Communities for Change, fast-food workers in the city make on average between $10,000 and $18,000 a year, well below the Census Bureau’s poverty income threshold level of about $23,000 for a family of four.

Low pay, however, is not the only problem. A number of workers who testified before the Council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor said they were not paid for the overtime they had worked.

A study issued last month by Fast Food Forward, a coalition of groups [including Make the Road New York] seeking to improve conditions for fast-food workers, found that about 80 percent of employees in the industry in New York City had experienced some form of wage theft in the past year.

Shenita Simon, a mother of three who works at a KFC in Brooklyn, said that to avoid paying her overtime, the manager would make her clock out even though she was still working. Yum Brands, which operates and licenses KFC, as well as Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants, did not respond to phone calls on Thursday for comment.

Councilman Michael C. Nelson, the committee’s chairman, said, “When fast-food restaurants fail to pay their workers all the wages due to them it diminishes the workers’ ability to support their families and increases their reliance on public benefits programs.”

As fast-food workers struggle to make ends meet, more people are working in the industry in New York City. According to the New York Labor Department, the number of jobs in the fast-food industry in the city has grown by 55 percent since 1999, a rate 19 times greater than the city’s overall private sector employment growth.

It appears that the state may be preparing to crack down on employers who abuse the rights of hourly low-wage workers.

Last month, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that he was investigating the wage practices of several fast-food restaurants and a fast-food parent company suspected of cheating their workers out of wages. The names of the businesses were not disclosed.

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