Workers at McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's restaurants across New York walked out Monday in a one-day strike to demand better pay and the right to unionize, calling for minimum wage to more than double from $7.25 to $15 an hour and the end to what activists called "abusive labor practices."
"It's noisy, it's really hot, fast, they rush you. Sometimes you don't even get breaks. All for $7.25? It's crazy," said Nathalia Sepulveda, who works at a McDonald's opposite Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where one protest took place.
Outside the McDonald's as well as a Wendy's in lower Manhattan, workers chanted "we can't survive on $7.25" and "supersize our wages." At the Wendy's, the crowd shouted at customers not to go in and two police officers were stationed inside.
They were among hundreds of people who took part at locations throughout New York, activists said. Similar strikes were planned across the country this week, organized by the national Fast Food Forward campaign, which was launched last year to tackle stagnating wages and the proliferation of low-wage jobs as the nation recovers from the recession, said campaign director Jonathan Westin.
"The workers' actions will lift up all of New York City," he said. "If they have more money in their pockets, they'll spend it right here, helping to boost the entire economy."
Doubling the minimum wage would have a "significant effect on the private sector's ability to create jobs, especially those typically filled by first-time workers and teens," said Scott DeFife of the National Restaurant Association. McDonald's had directed requests for comment to the trade group.
Spokesmen for Burger King and Wendy's both said they respect the rights of their workers.
"We're proud that Wendy's provides a place where thousands of people with different backgrounds and education levels can enter the workforce," said Wendy's spokesman Bob Bertini.
Glenda Soto, 35, a single mother supporting four children said that though she works full-time and often puts in 13-hour days at the Bronx McDonald's, money is a constant headache.
"My rent is going up in September," she said. "We are already living paycheck to paycheck."
Many workers brought their families with them, including children.
"We're a movement, we're a team," Sepulveda said as she held the hand of her 3-year-old son, Hayden.
The striking workers in Manhattan were joined by politicians and community leaders, including U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat who represents the district. He said the fact that the fast food industry is worth $200 billion a year and yet many of its employees still rely on food stamps and Medicaid is "disgusting."
Ashley Pinkney, who works at McDonald's in Times Square, arrived at the downtown rally still in her uniform.
"I can't even order something off the menu with what I earn," she said. "It makes me wonder what I'm even doing there."