Frustrated fast food workers swarmed a midtown McDonald's today to protest the company's latest wage announcement. The fast food giant announced yesterday that it would raise wages by $1.00 above the local minimum in each state, affecting around 90,000 employees at company-owned restaurants. But this new raise, which kicks in on July 1st, will only apply to about 10% of the company's US workers—around 750,000 workers instead earn their living at McDonald's franchises. Even those employees covered by the increase are far from their $15 goal, as most will still be paid less than $10 an hour.
As McDonald's workers, other fast food employees and supporters began to gather around the corner from the Fifth Avenue store, a few NYPD officers lingered outside, with one cop informing a small group that "Anyone who goes inside to protest will be arrested, that's trespass." Before the protest began, we spoke to Jorel Ware, 33, from the Bronx. He works for a McDonald's on Eighth Avenue Manhattan, doing a range of tasks for $8.75 an hour. He's been there for two and a half years, and said the $1.00 increase is a joke.
"It was clearly, blatantly a PR stunt. Basically, we want $15 and a union... nothing less than that. They make millions of dollars, they can do it," said Ware. "It's terrible. I pay $200 a week rent, I make $210 a week. I've got to borrow my sister's Metrocard, I gotta go to my mother's house to eat, stuff like that. It's hard. But I try, because I know in the long run, $15 and a union, that will pull me out of poverty. I'll be happy, buy my own MetroCard and stuff like that."
Julia Andino, 20, from Brooklyn, works at a McDonald's on Broadway in Manhattan. She has a two-year-old child, and struggles to make ends meet. "My son is three, I have a $900 room I rent, I have bills, hospital bills I have to pay... supermarket, gone, babysitting services. Diapers, gone. It's difficult to live off. $15 isn't a lot, but it's something we can work with," said Andino. "This city will either eat you and spit you out, or you have to live. And I feel like it will be fair when I can come home and not be sitting on my bed crying because I can't maintain my son and my family."
After assembling outside the Fifth Avenue McDonald's for speeches, the group began to march through the streets. As they chanted and drummed past a Wendy's, a couple of workers jumped up and down, their arms raised as they cheered on the procession. When the group reached their destination—a McDonald's on Sixth Avenue—protesters flooded through the doors, signs raised as they packed out the restaurant.
NYPD officers, who appeared to have been waiting for the group, quickly ushered them out, closing the doors and guarding the entrance against any second attempt at taking the space. Organizers moved to get everyone back outside before a second round of speakers commenced.
Fight for $15 protesters briefly took a McDonald's on Sixth Ave pic.twitter.com/ci4lKB559J
— Jessica Warriner (@jesswarriner) April 2, 2015
We spoke to Kendall Fells, the organizing director of Fight for $15, who said that the announcement from McDonald's was measly and not helping any of the families that have been fighting for $15. "Over the last two years, McDonald's essentially said they can't raise the wages for anyone, in any of their stores," Fells told us. "And it looks like these workers have just won a dollar raise, for 90,000 employees, because McDonald's said they couldn't do it and now they just did it. McDonald's has the power, they're the boss, they can raise wages for everyone if they wanted to. They're just not doing it."
Earlier this week, an ongoing feud between the fast food company and labor unions came before the National Labor Relations Board. The Board is deciding whether McDonald's should be defined as a joint employer with its individual franchisees, meaning the corporation would bear equal responsibility for the franchise employees and their working conditions. A 2013 report from the National Employment Law Project found that McDonald's low wages forced more than half of their workers to rely on public assistance to afford basic necessities, at a cost of more than $1 billion a year to taxpayers.
Yesterday's announcement from McDonald's included a new "comprehensive benefits package" for workers, which will include paid personal leave and financial assistance for completing their education. This package will apply to both corporate and franchise staff, and McDonald's President and CEO Steve Easterbook said the company is "acting with a renewed sense of energy and purpose" to turn the business around.
"We know that a motivated workforce leads to better customer service so we believe this initial step not only benefits our employees, it will improve the McDonald's restaurant experience," said Easterbrook in a statement. We'll continue to evaluate opportunities that will make a difference for our people."
As it stands, a Fight for $15 walkout is scheduled for 200 cities on April 15th, which will see McDonald's and other fast-food workers take to the streets. Organizers are expecting over 10,000 people at the New York, Chicago and LA protests.