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Fast-food Workers Rally, Testify At Wage Board Meeting

Hoping to capitalize on an issue receiving national attention, hundreds of fast-food workers rallied in Manhattan demanding a $15 minimum wage today before spilling into a state wage board meeting.

Credit nynow.org

According to the Fight-for-15 movement, New York’s 182,000-plus fast-food workers are among the lowest paid workers in the state and throughout the nation.

Although New York's minimum wage is now $8.75, set to rise to $9 at year's end, fast-food workers say it hasn't kept up with the cost of living, keeping them from paying bills, saving money and finding suitable housing.

Cooks and cashiers from various fast food outlets told their stories before the wage board during its meeting Monday at New York University.

Robert Godfrey, a full-time McDonald's employee, is also a full-time college student.  "I'm fighting for a fair wage because big companies want workers to treat customers with respect, but they don't treat their employees with respect. You're paying us a minimum wage. That's a joke."

Giving testimony via a translator, Jose Sanchez says he's been working for Domino's Pizza for five years. "I am only earning $6.40 an hour..."   Sanchez explained he was struggling because many customers believe a recently imposed $2 delivery fee goes toward tipping delivery people.

Chantel Walker works at a Papa John's pizzeria.  "I feel for these families out here that have children and they have lifestyles and they wanna provide a better life for their family. It's very hard. $9 is not enough. $8.75 damn sure ain't enough."

Fight-for-15 says 52 percent of fast food workers nationally have at least one family member on public assistance, with New York taxpayers giving $700 million a year in public assistance to fast-food workers to bridge the cost of what they refer to as "poverty level" wages.

Some business owners object, saying an increase could force them to raise prices or reduce hours for employees.   The Business Council of New York State said last week it "believes that the state’s long-term future requires improvements in the state’s overall economic competitiveness.  Imposing significant new costs on employers, including new or increased wage mandates, is contrary to achieving that objective."

Meanwhile, the Employment Policies Institute criticized as flawed a new paper released by the office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who supports a $15 minimum wage, saying it would benefit service employees in the city.  EPI's research director Michael Saltsman:  "Business owners with narrow profit margins, just keeping maybe 2 or 3 percent of all the sales profits, really can't just absorb the increase. They either have to increase their prices, or if their customers aren't willing to pay higher prices, then they have to find another way to offset the costs."

Later this summer, the wage board is expected to recommend whether to raise the minimum wage for the fast-food industry. Any increase would need the approval of Governor Andrew Cuomo's labor commissioner, but would not need legislative approval.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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