A boisterous protest outside the Wendy's on Nassau Street in Lower Manhattan drew an impressive midmorning crowd yesterday, as fast food workers and their supporters demonstrated to demand higher wages and improved working conditions.
The demonstrations and walk-outs were part of a union-backed, country-wide effort that has spanned months. Ashley Pinkney, an employee at the Times Square McDonald's, wore her uniform to the protest. "If I can't order something off the menu with what I make in an hour—that's a problem," she said.
Timothy LeBron, an SEIU member, explained the protesters' goals: "We want fair wages. Fast food is a billion dollar industry—we don't want poverty wages, we need them up. Prices are up, rent is up—they should be ashamed."
One Wendy's employee who told us she was proud to protest in front of her workplace, explained, "We're only making $7.25 an hour. Train fares are going up and right now it's already $2.50."
In addition to low wages, fast food employees also pointed to incidents of disrespect and blatant mistreatment by some of their managers as evidence that the current situation is intolerable. Former McDonald's employee Daniella Robles said, "I was really exploited. I never had any scheduling rights. They would schedule me for a certain time, but then I'd work overtime. I'd work overtime and then not get paid for it."
Robles added, "I was constantly disrespected. I was sexually harassed a couple times, and when I reported it nothing was done. I had wages stolen from me and there was no way to prove it."
The demonstrations picked up steam earlier this month after McDonald's employees were ordered to continue working in the kitchen without air conditioning during a deadly heat wave. Pinkney, who is a practicing Muslim, said, "I usually wear my hijab, and the other day I was told to take it off. It's against the law to tell me to take it off."
Some pedestrians joined the protest and chanted with the fast food workers. Wendy's patrons peered awkwardly from behind the glass and looked relieved as the group moved on to Union Square. "It's more than a protest," one demonstrator told us. "It's a cry for solidarity."