Ithaca and Binghamton area protests will join worldwide campaign for living wage for fast food workers

May 14, 2014

Protesters in Central New York will stand alongside fast food workers who are pushing for a living wage and the right to organize this Thursday. Events are planned for the McDonald's on Route 13 in Ithaca's southwest and the McDonald's at 167 Main Street in Binghamton.

"Fast food workers and their allies everywhere, not just the U.S. but every continent where McDonald's operates, will be standing up for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without intimidation," says Bonnie Wilson, field coordinator for the Central New York Area Labor Federation of the AFL-CIO, who's organizing the lunchtime Binghamton protest.

Update: Wilson tells us the Binghamton protest has been canceled "due to unforeseen circumstances."

Fast food restaurant employees and other food service workers are often paid minimum wage (federally, $7.25 per hour, but New York State has its own minimum wage of $8 effective this year) or slightly above, and often get shifts adding up to way less than a 40-hour full-time work week. (Employees who work less than thirty hours per week don't have to be treated as full-time staff for benefits purposes.)

Pete Meyers of the Tompkins County Workers' Center, organizer of tomorrow's Ithaca protest, from 12 noon to 1pm, says McDonald's is just a prominent example of the problem across the industry. "They're all pretty much the same in terms of very low wages, and the part-time thing is increasing in retail." Meyers and his group organized a dancing flashmob at the McDonald's on North Triphammer Road in the Village of Lansing in December to draw attention to the plight of low-paid food workers.

The events in Ithaca and Binghamton are part of a worldwide protest that's expected to include food worker strikes in 150 cities and 30 countries on May 15th. Coverage in Salon suggests organizers expect walkouts in "cities including Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando, and Sacramento, and to involve thousands of total workers, including hundreds each in cities including St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Oakland, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City." There are also protests planned in such cities as Karachi, Casablanca, London, Sao Paolo, Dublin, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Geneva, and San Salvador, as well as locations in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Japan.

"These strikes are part of a long-term strategy to make the issue of low pay for workers but high profits for the industry an unavoidable embarrassment to the fast food industry," says Ken Margolies, a senior associate at the Worker Institute at Cornell and a New York City labor and collective bargaining specialist, who stresses that these events are different from traditional labor strikes.

Meyers adds that the event in Ithaca, co-sponsored by the Labor-Religion Coalition of the Finger Lakes, is part of a "growing, global movement to hold fast food restaurants accountable to the communities they operate in." The aim is "more educational than a boycott," he says, "getting people to at least think about the issue."

"McDonald's is the focus because of its high profile," says Wilson. Meyers says food service employees are also often victims of wage theft. The New York State Attorney General's Office just last month settled for $500,000 with a McDonald's franchise owner in New York City after complaints of managers ordering employees to clock out but keep working. Locally, we were disappointed to learn in 2009 that the owner of both Tamarind and Taste of Thai (on the Commons near Simeon's) had admitted to "substantial labor law and wage violations," and owed tens of thousands of dollars to 36 workers. The owner has been repaying money owed to these workers.

Lowell Turner, an expert on the global labor movement and social movements, and a director at the Worker Institute at Cornell, says, "The best way to tackle growing inequality is to push up wages at the low end." He says the fast food minimum wage campaigns "lay the groundwork for a broader mobilization for policy reform such as progressive taxation, to challenge inequality from both top and bottom."


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