Putting a Local Face on the Nation’s Fast Food Debate

Written by Alissa Fleck on . Posted in News Our Town Downtown.


The fast food strike has hit at least seven states; local employees and customers respond

Damien Davis works full time, but he knows he’s going to have to start looking for a second job any day now. He works at the West 4th Street McDonald’s and is one of the thousands of the city’s fast food workers who are facing the prospect of not making ends meet even after putting in their 40 hours every week.

Last week, fast food workers throughout New York City — and the country — were walking off the job to demand an end to abusive workplace practices as well as a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize without retaliation.

Workers at fast food restaurants including Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s have the support of national and local elected leaders, as well as organizations like Fast Food Forward, which have helped spur the movement and encouraged ongoing negotiations.

Damien Davis, 20, takes out the trash at the W 4th St. McDonald’s where he works full time.

Damien Davis, 20, takes out the trash at the W 4th St. McDonald’s where he works full time.

According to Jonathan Westin, Campaign Director for Fast Food Forward, raising the minimum wage for these workers will be a winning situation for everyone.

“If they have more money in their pockets, they’ll spend it right here,” explained Westin, “helping to boost the entire economy.”

At the W. 4th St. McDonald’s, 20-year-old Davis was listening to music while taking out the trash. A slight man with a boyish grin, Davis said he was not allowed to talk on the job but paused to answer a few questions and greet a regular.

Davis, a resident of Brooklyn, said he did not participate in the strike, though he works at McDonald’s full-time and does not make enough to support himself. When Our Town Downtown asked Davis if he has another job, he smiled and responded, “not yet.”

Fatima Lucky works full-time at the Wendy’s at 650 Broadway and also lives in Brooklyn. Unlike Davis, Lucky participated in the strikes and said the reception seemed positive.

Lucky said she does not make enough at Wendy’s to survive and is currently looking for other jobs.

Lucky is skeptical about the movement’s success though.

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A worker takes out the trash at the 650 Broadway Wendy’s where Fatima Lucky works full time.

“It’s sad because [the fast food companies] make billions a year and they cannot even give us a one dollar raise,” said Lucky.

Carlos Vinales, 24, works full-time at Popeye’s on Delancey and, while Popeye’s is not one of the participating restaurants in the protests, Vinales said he does not believe the $7.25 he currently makes an hour will be enough to survive. Vinales lives in public housing off FDR Drive.

While he just started at Popeye’s, Vinales continues to work a maintenance job in his off hours.

Given the opportunity, Vinales said he “probably would strike.”

At a Burger King on Delancey and Suffolk, employees refused to answer any questions about the strikes.

Many news outlets have noted increasing the minimum wage for fast food workers could ultimately result in more expensive dining options at those restaurants. Would that make a difference for consumers?

It’s difficult to say, but Sarah King, Jenny McGrath and Annite Forte, all 22, who were dining at the W. 4th St. McDonald’s said a price hike and its impact on their choices would ultimately depend on the restaurant.

“It’s known to be cheap, that’s the advantage, that’s why we go to McDonalds,” said King. “I don’t think I’d eat there if it were more expensive.”

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