Long Island Fast Food Workers Rally for Raises

fast food rally
Fast food workers rallied to demand their pay be raised to $15 hourly Thursday, June 18, 2015 at Nassau Community College (Photo by Gabby Sizemore/LongIslandPress)

Dozens of protesters rallied last week at Nassau Community College to urge New York State to raise the minimum wage for fast-food restaurant workers to $15 per hour, up from $8.75 hourly.

The rally preceded a state Wage Board public hearing where nearly 400 people spoke, mostly in favor of the proposed raise for fast food workers. But some fast food restaurant franchise owners voiced opposition to the idea.

“What do we want? $15! When do we want it? Now!” protestors chanted Thursday before the hearing—the third of five that the board is holding statewide on the issue.

Such rallies have spread to hundreds of cities nationwide starting more than two years ago. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked the wage board to consider whether to recommend the raise.

“This isn’t enough to support my family,” said Veronica Ramos, a McDonald’s employee for 11 years. “I only earn $9.85 per hour, and we don’t receive vacation, sick days or health insurance. I currently live with my sister in a studio apartment and help take care of my mother.”

Entry-level fast food workers make approximately $16,920 a year, according to the state Department of Labor. The salary is $1,010 above the federal poverty line for a family of two. At least one member of 52 percent of fast-food workers families’ are on food stamps, Medicaid or other social services, advocates said.

Tom Spero, who started his fast-food career at Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips 40 years ago while he was in high school, put himself through college and now owns four Wendy’s franchises, disagreed with the majority of speakers.

“I look at my financials, and I have to disagree respectfully with the experts that have come up here,” said Spero. “If this wage increases and goes above the $9 minimum wage, which is on the books for this coming January and moves to $15, I would have to not only move all my crew-members up to $15, but I would have to move my managers. This would be a huge impact on my business.”

He said that during the spring, summer and fall he uses 4,000 hours of labor per week on average. If the minimum wage increases by $6.25 per hour, it adds up to $25,000 per week, which he said his business can’t afford.

Such sentiments were outnumbered at the hearing.

“Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour will actually boost the economy and create new jobs because over 24,000 fast food workers on Long Island will receive millions of dollars more in pay each year, which they will spend locally,” said Michael Zweig, professor of economics and director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “The extra demand in our shops and businesses will create new jobs.”

While the debate rages on, the state wage board is expected to make its recommendation next month on the proposed wage increase.

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