A couple dozen people had gathered in front of a McDonald's in midtown Manhattan well before light, chanting—"McDonald's, escucha, estamos en la lucha"—and holding signs—"strike for higher pay for a stronger New York," "stop retaliation against worker organizing." Striking worker Raymond Lopez said he counted at least seven of his coworkers in the crowd and expected more to arrive.
Lopez earns $8.75 an hour as a shift manager (not a supervisory position) and works another job, allowing him to get by without public assistance, but said that many of his coworkers who make the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or only slightly more rely on food stamps or other government programs. He thinks, reasonably enough, that's not right. "I saw a sign once that said 'when the people at the bottom move, the people at the top fall.' I don't mean that to sound threatening or anything, but they're up there getting rich on our work. McDonald's can afford to pay us enough to survive."
While a minority of New York City's fast food workers are striking, doing so is a major act of courage in the face of likely retaliation:
Jose Cerillo, a 79-year-old who cleans tables and floors at a New York McDonald’s, told Salon he was suspended by the company on Monday after signing up co-workers on the campaign petition. According to Cerillo, management said the punishment was for violating a “no solicitation” policy. "They feel threatened because I’m organizing," said Cerillo (he was interviewed in Spanish). He said he circulated the petition during break times and outside of work.It's especially not enough to live in a city as expensive as New York City.
Cerillo said he got involved after receiving a phone call from an organizer at home a few months ago. "I was so happy," he said. Cerillo, who has been working at a series of McDonald’s locations since 1996, said he makes $7.40 an hour, 15 cents above minimum wage. "It’s just not enough to live."
The workers are seeking to form an independent union, the Fast Food Workers Committee, Josh Eidelson reports; the organizing drive is backed by community organizing groups like New York Communities for Change as well as the SEIU.