New York City is the land of a thousand fast food joints, and our neighborhood is no exception. Bushwick is home to upwards of 20 locations of major fast food restaurants, including multiple McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Dunkin’ Donuts and Taco Bells, not to mention Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s, Domino’s, White Castle, Checker’s and Kennedy Fried Chicken. A few blocks down from Little Skips there’s a KFC at the sinister address 666 Bushwick Avenue. Bushwickians who live off the Myrtle-Broadway JMZ stop may remember the week early in 2013 when the Popeye’s next to the train entrance moved two storefronts down, temporarily making it seem like there were going to be two Popeye’s on the block. It amused many but would have surprised no one. It can’t be denied that fast food is all around us, whether we like it or not. Before you take a bite from a cheap burger, you should know that fast food chains frequently exploit their workers beyond “just” low wages. Fast food workers are too often subjected to brutal workplace conditions, such as overheated kitchens without air conditioning or fans in the middle of the summer, and unfair company policies, such as mandatory paycheck-gouging bank accounts, all too routinely.
Which is why Bushwick should be well-represented at Thursday’s rally in Union Square. Organized by the Fast Food Forward coalition, the rally is part of a general strike that will be in effect throughout 50 U.S. cities in an effort to get workers in a very lucrative but dramatically underpaying industry a living wage ($15 an hour) and the right to unionize.
A Fast Food Forward press release from Tuesday cited statistics sourced from MIT’s living Wage Calculator that draw a clear picture of the circumstances of fast food wage workers in New York: “The median wage [of a fast food worker in New York City] is $8.89/hour– the lowest of any occupation in the city. An adult with one child needs to make $24.69 an hour working full-time in the New York City area just to afford the basics.”
The rally at Union Square is planned for one of the last workdays before the long Labor Day weekend (a holiday that became an American institution in the wake of the Pullman railroad strikes of 1894) and the day after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which Martin Luther King gave his famous I Have A Dream speech. The rally will be the latest action from the organization, which launched last fall with a 200-worker walk-off. A petition on its website notes that many of New York’s fast food worker’s qualify for food stamps and cannot afford retirement while their labor supports a $200 billion industry.
Whatever the outcome of the strike is, it marks a significant moment in the American labor movement. The Union Square Rally is scheduled to start at 2:30pm on Thursday, and should draw a lot of attention.