QSR Employees Rally for Better Pay, Right to Unionize

New York protest follows success in grocery, car-wash channels

NEW YORK -- Dozens of fast-food-chain workers gathered outside of McDonald's, Burger King and other restaurants in New York City on Thursday, protesting for higher pay and the right to form a union.

Mobilized by New York Communities for Change, an organization that previously helped unionize car-wash and supermarket employees in the area, cashiers and cooks came together in hopes of roughly doubling their pay to $15 an hour, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Strikes were scheduled at various restaurants around the city all day, culminating with a 4 p.m. rally at the McDonald’s in Time Square. Organizers said the first demonstration, at a McDonald’s near Grand Central Station at 6 a.m. included 14 of the 17 employees scheduled to work that shift.

“McDonald’s values our employees and has consistently remained committed to them, so in turn they can provide quality service to our customers,” a spokeswoman for McDonald’s said in a statement.

However, like most fast-food chains, McDonald’s restaurants are primarily owned and operated by franchisees, leaving the corporate office out of the labor decisions. The company spokeswoman described pay and benefits as “competitive within the quick-service restaurant industry,” according to the report.

Fast-food chains are already struggling to boost profitability, as low consumer confidence and high food costs are weighing in on their earnings. In October, McDonald’s same-store sales, a key indicator of restaurant success, declined for the first time in nearly a decade.

Representatives from Burger King and Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, were not immediately available to comment on their workers’ decision to protest.

Jonathan Westin, organizing director for New York Communities for Change, said the success working with grocery-store and car-wash employees encouraged the group to take on the fast-food giants.

“We found that the biggest industry of low-wage work in the city is fast food,” he said. “The fast-food industry has been seen for so long as teen-agers working after-school jobs, but that isn’t the case anymore, especially after the recession.”

On the other hand, the National Restaurant Association sided with its member chains, saying, “The New York City restaurant industry is to be commended for providing jobs through a sluggish economy.”

“The industry, including quick-service restaurants, is one of the best paths to achieving the American dream and has provided opportunities for millions of Americans,” said Scott DeFife, executive vice president of Policy & Government Affairs for the National Restaurant Association, in a statement.