- Views & Opinions
More than 100 fast food workers, policy experts, community leaders and clergy members appeared at a New York City Council hearing this week to testify on the impact of the low wages and illegal wage theft.
“When the $200 billion fast food industry pays it’s people minimum wage, you know who suffers? We all do,” said Fast Food Forward campaign director Jonathan Westin. “Taxpayers pick up the tab for their food stamps and homeless shelter. Landlords lose tenants when families are forced to double up. Shop owners lose customers when people can’t afford to buy any extras.”
“For fast-food workers who are supporting families, making ends meet can truly be a struggle; in New York City, it is almost impossible to put food on the table with the salary of even a full-time employee in a fast-food establishment,” said New York City Councilman Mark Weprin, in a statement released this week.
Fast food industry workers make on average between $10,000 and $18,000 a year – below the poverty line – and 80 percent of them have had their pay illegally stolen over the last year, according to FFF.
“When I think I’m going to get paid for 35 hours at the end of the week, I’ll only see 30 on my check and not even know how that happened. I have direct deposit, but Burger King doesn’t make it easy to get your pay stub, so it’s not like I can check how they calculated my money,” said Keon Joseph, 20, a Burger King worker in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I can’t afford to have Burger King stealing money out of my paycheck. Paying for school, helping out with bills, it’s just so hard. We have to rely on food stamps to get by.”
The hearing followed a recent expose in The New York Times about bounced checks, late payments and forced hours off the clock plaguing workers in area’s fast food industry and an announcement from New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that his office is investigating.
“You can’t build a healthy economic recovery on jobs that pay poverty wages and subject workers to rampant wage theft. People can’t support themselves and have to rely on public assistance, local businesses lose out because their customers don’t have enough money to spend in their stores, and our city suffers as a result. Raising wages and enforcing workplace standards is a key economic growth strategy, and in a city with 50,000 fast food workers, it’s long past time to figure out how to improve working conditions for these and other low-wage workers,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.
After coming together in November and April in citywide strikes, the workers are continuing to fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union.
“Much like the roaring 1920s, the top 1 percent now extracts more of the nation’s income and wealth relative to the bottom 90 percent,” said Dorian Warren, a professor of political science and public affairs at Columbia University. “Raises and the right to form unions would shift money back to working families for basic necessities, instead of sending it off to distant corporate headquarters to pad profits for executives and Wall Street stockholders. That shift, in turn, would help support small businesses and jobs in local communities.”
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