Fast food workers striking for living wages

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Could you survive in New York City on $7.25 an hour? That’s a mere $58 for an eight hour shift…before taxes. The idea is laughable to many of us, but it is the harsh reality for thousands of fast food workers in the city and around the country. A national movement of low-wage workers is calling attention to the low wages and poor working conditions rampant within the fast food industry by walking off the job. In the past month fast food workers in seven cities—Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Flint, and New York City—went on strike.

As Terrance Wise, who works at Pizza Hut and Burger King in Kansas City, told Democracy Now!, “What else do we have to lose? We are already slowly dying in our day-to-day lives. So why not speak up, and stand up, and let the nation know that we are suffering?” He continued, “This is really a cry for help. This great nation should not turn its back on working-class people that need help.”

Fast Food Forward, a New York City-based organization, is calling for wages to increase to $15 an hour, which would almost double fast food workers’ current median hourly wage of $8.94, according to a new report from the National Employment Law Project. The striking fast food workers illustrate the growing income inequality both in New York and across the country. The Fast Food Forward website states that the average fast food worker in New York City makes $11,000 a year, while the average fast food CEO makes $25,000 a day–over twice the average workers’ yearly income. You can sign their petition to show your support for a wage increase.

The federal minimum wage, as well as New York State’s, is currently $7.25 an hour. That works out to approximately $92 a week for food, gas, clothing, and other spending money. As mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio learned when he accepted the “Workers Rising” challenge organized by UnitedNY and New York Community for Change, simply eating and using transportation on less than $100 a week is very difficult in New York City. “If we as leaders want to represent the people of our city, than we must do what we can to understand the hardships people face, and the urgency in finding ways to lift more New Yorkers out of poverty and into the middle class,” said DeBlasio.

McDonald’s made headlines earlier this month when it released its new website (in partnership with Visa) that featured a “Practical Money Skills Budget Journal” to help employees manage their money. The guide only confirmed what most people already expected: it’s impossible to survive on a minimum wage income from McDonald’s. First, the guide assumes that you have a second job. It only calculates $20/ month for health insurance. There is no mention of co-pays, prescription costs, or when you will visit a doctor between your two jobs.

The sample monthly budget also leaves out food, lists rent as $600 (Not in NYC! Median rent prices in Manhattan were over $3,000 for the first time ever this summer and Brooklyn isn’t far behind at $2,737), and only allocates $100 for savings. McDonald’s apparently doesn’t consider the costs of higher education, such as student loans or tuition, or think that its employees might be caring for people besides themselves.

Mother Jones has a calculator where you can determine how many hours a week you would have to work at McDonald’s in order to meet your current income. I am single and have no dependents, and I would have to work 54 hours a week in order to earn the $25,000 a year I currently make from part-time babysitting and writing. That’s almost 11 hours of work a day, five days a week, not even including the time it takes to get to and from work—there’s no way I could do that and graduate school, as I do now. In that same amount of time McDonald’s makes $160,054,320.

What does all of this have to do with sustainability? For one, a recent study published in Science showed that rising global temperatures—and the subsequent storms, droughts, and crop failures that will accompany them—will lead to a rise in violent conflicts. In the face of dwindling resources, dramatic income inequalities, such as between the average fast food worker and the average fast food company CEO, could also contribute to future conflicts. It is important to consider not just the ecological components of sustainability, but also the social ones.