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Source: Crain's New York Business
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

NYC workers kick off nationwide fast food strikes

A series of fast food strikes taking place across the country kicked off on Monday in the Big Apple, where workers and their supporters, including elected officials, picketed outside at least five McDonald’s and Wendy’s restaurants arguing for higher wages and the right to form a union.

Some workers are expected to walk off of their jobs for a day in seven cities this week including Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit, according to organizers.

The rallies, spearheaded by such advocacy groups as Fast Food Forward and Make the Road New York, are part of a larger initiative on behalf of low-wage employees in the retail and service sectors. The fast food workers and their allies are calling for wages of $15 an hour—or double what many of the workers currently earn.

While the labor actions have gained significant publicity and the workers appear to have public support, industry experts say the movement is still too small and sporadic to force real change in an industry that weathered a labor push in the 1970s.

“The strikes are very short in duration and piecemeal,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, a restaurant consulting firm. “I think a large portion of the public supports the workers, but how much more they are willing to pay [in food price increases] for these pay increases is very questionable.”

The fast food industry is already under financial pressure on Wall Street, which is disappointed in its flat sales over the past several years. And while the advocates and workers are calling for higher pay, there are indications that the industry’s business model wouldn’t allow for it. In New York City, a number of operators have left the business, including Irwin Krueger, who owned four McDonald’s franchises, including one of the highest grossing in the country in Times Square.

“McDonald’s wasn’t growing in the Manhattan area,” said Mr. Krueger, who now owns three Smashburger eateries on Long Island.

Another significant franchisee in the city, who did not want to be identified, said he owns fewer fast food restaurants “because their profit margins had been shrinking for years.”

The franchisee added that the strikes and the accompanying publicity is a big worry for such conglomerates as McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. The corporate giants communicate with their franchisees warning them of impending strikes and supplying them with talking points. But as of yet, he added, “they are simply watching” the developments.

Workers at the Wendy’s at 85 Nassau St. in lower Manhattan are hoping their voices are being heard.

About 60 or so protestors, including workers from other restaurants in the city, were there chanting: “We can’t survive on $7.25 an hour.” While the restaurant was fully staffed, a manager conceded that customer traffic was down as a result of the protest.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who was among the supporters, said “The history of union organizing shows that public support can sway opinions.”

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