Fast Food Workers Launch Support Organization

Fast food workers celebrate a wage increase. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

For Dominican-born Violeta Luis, 60, fighting for her rights for two years was a matter of commitment to herself and to the new generations of workers. The Upper Manhattan resident decided to join the campaign advocating for $15 an hour in the fast food sector after hearing about the woes of immigrant youths “who were trying to survive with a wage that was not even enough to put food on the table,” she said.

On Wednesday, Luis, who has worked at McDonald’s since 2013, was among the people who attended the official launching of Fast Food Justice, the first nonprofit workers’ organization registered under a piece of legislation approved in 2017. The New York City law allows employees in this sector to voluntarily contribute to a workers support organization by allowing deductions from their salaries the way it is done with unions.

Luis said that she feels she is often left out of the schedule at her job due to her age, adding that she has never had a place to go to with her complaints about the changes and cancellations she constantly suffers at work. “Maybe my employers do not know about the new laws regarding schedules,” she speculated, “but I trust that, with this organization, these problems will be solved.”

Fast Food for Justice does not negotiate collective labor agreements or represent workers, but it offers them guidance about how to channel their complaints when employers fail to comply with the new laws regarding scheduling or sick days, for instance.

“I want to be treated with respect, and I like to know that there is a place I can call to make that happen,” explained Luis referring to the new organization, which is funded by deducting the equivalent of one hour of work per month, or $13.50, through the end of this year.

Violeta Luis works at a McDonald’s. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Even though the organization has been officially launched and counts on the support of other groups – such as the Center of Popular Democracy, Make the Road New York and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, in addition to elected officials including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James – it will face challenges in the future. The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Law Center has filed a lawsuit against forcing fast food companies to deduct contributions made by workers to Fast Food Justice.

The support that Fast Food Justice enjoys from these other organizations not only allows the group to offer coverage to workers and verify that companies comply with city laws, but also to act in other areas of social and community justice affecting these employees, such as fair public policy on transportation, safe and affordable housing and immigration matters.

James said that this organization is the latest victory for workers in a year in which legislation regarding scheduling and access to more work hours has been improved.

For his part, Stringer described the birth of Fast Food Justice as a chance to “deliver real and lasting progress for working people.”

Tsedeye Gebreselassie, a member of Fast Food Justice’s board, stated that the organization will not stop until workers in this sector have transformed their industry into one where their jobs allow them to support their families.

Satisfied workers

José Sánchez and Albino Hernández, both born in Mexico and employees at Domino’s Pizza, said that the wage increase they received early this year and the $15 they will be paid beginning in 2019 will bring financial relief to their families.

José Sánchez (left) and Albino Hernández (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

“The cost of living in New York gets higher and higher. Maybe this wage is low for some, but for us it is a great victory. We work too hard for our families. We deserve that work to be rewarded,” said Hernández. “The struggle of the workers does not end here. Much remains to be changed, but now we are united and know how to get organized.”

Sánchez, who has worked for the pizza chain for six years, said that he is happy to be a part of the workers’ organization. “Right now, we do not have a specific time when we get off, and we are unable to make plans. Now, with the new laws, they are going to have to respect that. Through Fast Food Justice, we will make sure that the laws are obeyed.”

The worker said that having this organization on their side does not mean that they are giving up on their demands to form a union. The SEIU, which has supported the fight for $15 with its power and resources, has been unable to unionize many workers, but Sánchez believes that the struggle to achieve this will continue.

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