As Ithaca residents push for a living wage, a nationwide fast food strike aims to deliver it

September 3, 2014 by Mark H. Anbinder

Fast food workers around the country and around the globe are planning a strike this Thursday to push for a significant wage increase in that job sector. It's another in a series of strikes like one this May, which saw protests scheduled in Ithaca and 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

Food service workers at chains like McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and others, as well as at many privately owned eateries, 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.)

The same thing is seen in other areas of the hospitality industry, including part-time hotel jobs. The City of Ithaca has pushed developers looking for permits to build hotels within city limits to promise a living wage to their staff members, but Mayor Svante Myrick has said even when hotels won't make that commitment, he'd rather see them built downtown than on the outskirts of town, contributing to suburban sprawl.

Pete Meyers of the Tompkins County Workers' Center 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 last December to draw attention to the plight of low-paid food workers.

“McDonald’s and our independent franchisees support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace,” a McDonald's spokesperson said in a statement. "The topic of minimum wage goes well beyond McDonald’s -- it affects our country’s entire workforce."

Though there's no protest scheduled for Ithaca this week, Meyers says, "The Tompkins County Workers' Center stands in solidarity with fast food workers throughout the nation who are standing for a Living Wages in their workplaces. We stand with those workers who want a fair and just workplace."

Seth Stein, a campaign spokesman for Martha Robertson, who's running for Rep. Tom Reed's seat in Congress to represent the 23rd congressional district, says, "Martha believes that no one should work full time and still struggle to make ends meet, and it's just wrong that workers at fast food chains have to depend on public benefits to feed their families." Stein adds, "Martha supports raising the federal minimum wage, something that her opponent Congressman Tom Reed is against." Reed and his campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

According to Salon, the strike in May included 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 were also protests reported 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 says, "We echo the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said in 1933, 'No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.'" He encourages "workers who feel aggrieved by their workplace conditions and wages and live in Tompkins County" to contact the Workers Rights Hotline at 607-269-0409 or visit the group's web site at


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