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Local Fast-Food Strike Not So Local

by Gilad Edelman | Dec 6, 2013 9:25 am

(1) Comment | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Labor, Dixwell, Whalley

Gilad Edelman Photo Fast-food strikers rallied outside St. Luke’s Church as the local event in a nationwide strike, though it was unclear how many, if any, New Haven workers actually went on strike.

The few dozen protesters, most of whom were labor organizers and community supporters, joined a nationwide one-day strike in over 100 cities in an effort to pressure fast-food chains into paying their employees a livable wage, estimated at $15 an hour. In Connecticut, the rallies were largely organized by the Hartford-based service unions and Working Families Party. Several workers from the Hartford area attended the New Haven rally.

None of the fast-food workers who agreed to speak with a reporter at the event Thursday outside St. Luke’s on Whalley came from the New Haven area. Organizers present at the St. Luke’s rally were unable to identify any New Haven fast-food workers or say whether New Haven fast-food workers took part in the protest.

Taylor Leake, a spokesman in Hartford for the Working Families Party, said his understanding was that “at least a couple workers from the New Haven area” participated. “It’s a moving target with workers, so it’s hard to say how many were participating in either of the strikes,” he added.

Numerous New Haven political and labor figures attended the rally, including state Rep. Gary-Holder Winfield and Dwight Alderman Frank Douglass.

The organizers’ message had not appeared to win converts at the fast-food outlets a block away.

Teresa Parker, a manager at a Burger King on Whalley who was juggling phone calls, drive-through orders, and requests for cigarette breaks, said she had been too busy to learn much from the person who came in to talk to her about the rally.

At the Subway restaurant a few doors down from St. Luke’s, the employees expressed indifference to the labor effort. “They came here, but I’m not interested,” said Samantha Correa. “I like working here.”

Correa, who is 17 and makes minimum wage, was skeptical of the push for $15 an hour. “I think it’s crazy. That’s a lot.”

Tina Conners (at right in photo), an employee at a McDonald’s in Manchester who came down for the New Haven rally, disagreed. She said she has been living out of her car for the past two years. She said she makes the state minimum wage, $8.25 per hour; she gets to work only 10 to 20 hours a week, despite asking for more. She estimated that she would need to make “at least 700 a week” to afford a place to live—more than three times what she earns now.

“I don’t think it’s fair that I work so hard and I can’t afford to live,” said Conners, who is 20. Still, she was fearful that her participation in the strike would jeopardize her job. “I was glad that I got this one, even though it’s crap,” she said. “It’s money.” She said she has been looking for higher-paying office or secretarial work, but that employers want someone with more experience.

Ben Phillips, a communications director for the Service Employees International Union in Hartford, where a protest also took place Thursday, called $15 per hour the bare minimum to allow workers to live and support their families. (Click here to read about a study suggesting that the minimum livable wage in Connecticut is $19.44.) He rejected the notion that higher salaries would force employers to shed jobs, the argument advanced by business groups.

“If you were to double the minimum wage currently, McDonald’s and other companies wouldn’t have to raise prices one penny; that’s how lucrative they are,” he said. Current minimum wages, he said, are based on the notion, now outdated, that fast-food-type jobs are mainly staffed by teenagers working after school. “Folks are having to raise families on these poverty wages, and there’s no reason for it except corporate greed,” he argued.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (pictured with Conners), appearing at the New Haven rally, expressed his support for the cause. He mentioned his sponsorship of a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to about $10 an hour, indexed to inflation. He called that just a start.

“For a state like Connecticut, 15 dollars is really the absolute minimum,” Blumenthal said. He dismissed the idea that raising the minimum wage would suppress job creation. “It works just the opposite,” he said: raising salaries increases purchasing power, which stimulates the economy and job growth. “For the average American, wages and income are stagnating, and that is wrong not only morally, but economically.”

A business that can’t afford to pay more than the current minimum wage, he said, “is not economically viable.”

Josh Griffin (at left in photo), who works with Conners at the McDonald’s in Manchester, agreed. He said it’s hard to pay his bills despite managing to work about 40 hours a week.

“I have to fight for those hours,” he said at the new Haven rally. “But I’m struggling. Every night my roommate and I talk about it. It’s terrifying.”

Griffin, a 21-year-old who has worked at McDonald’s since August 2011, said he’d been demoted from his manager position after taking an approved vacation. His demotion only bumps his salary down from $9.45 to $9.30, but, he said, every cent counts.

“We’re not even asking for something to live on,” he said. “We’re just asking for something to get by on.”


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posted by: HewNaven on December 6, 2013  12:30pm

Teresa Parker, a manager at a Burger King on Whalley who was juggling phone calls, drive-through orders, and requests for cigarette breaks, said she had been too busy to learn much from the person who came in to talk to her about the rally.

This might explain why no New Haven fast food workers never showed up. Despite the terrible working conditions, they still work everyday, because if they didn’t they’d be homeless.

Side note: I’d assume the prevalence of cigarette smoking in this line of work is a coping mechanism for depression and hopelessness associated with the job and life as a poor person. Not everyone can just run to their shrink and order more prozac.

Finally, the poor working conditions are not exclusive to fast food. Food service, in general, is probably the worst industry for workers. Check this out:

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