Dozens of Workers in Boston Area Participate in National Fast Food Workers Strike Day
BOSTON - Jennifer Himenos, 25, has been working at the Dunkin Donuts near the American Legion Highway in Roslindale for the past four months, earning $8.50 an hour. She does not have her own apartment and sleeps on her mother and aunt’s couches between her part-time shifts.
On Thursday, she joined dozens of workers from fast food chains in the area, including McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Burger King, in downtown Boston and several other locations, in walking off the job and picketing in favor of an increased minimum wage. At a maximum of 22 hours of work a week, Himenos does not get health benefits, and has been hoping for full-time work so she can have access to health benefits. She said, “I’d like to see the minimum wage go up. We work with the public and I feel like ... we don’t get paid enough to deal with the ignorance of people. You know, people who feel like, we work at these places, so, we’re treated like nothing.” Himenos makes about $748 dollars a month, before taxes.
Workers at Dunkin Donuts and other fast-food chains conducted walkouts in over 50 cities Thursday, calling for a significant raise of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15.00 dollars an hour, and the right to union representation. While the minimum wage in Massachusetts ranks the eighth highest in the nation at $8.00 an hour, workers are dissatisfied by the low pay in an area with a high cost of living. In 2012, there were 62,000 people making $8.00 an hour in Massachusetts.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are 4.1 million fast food workers employed across the United States, with an average wage of $8.94 an hour. The average employee only works two hours more than Ms. Himenos a week; a whopping 24 hours when many want full time work. At a salary of $11,137.00, prior to taxes, these workers live below the federal poverty level. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, if the current minimum wage kept up with inflation, the minimum wage would be over three dollars higher, at $10.75 an hour. Calculating a minimum wage against a worker’s productivity —$17.00 an hour. There are a range of minimum wage raise proposals in Massachusetts and across the country, ranging from $9-$15 an hour.
Many people assume the identity of the average fast food worker to be a teenager, saving money from a summer job for college. In reality, the age of the average fast food service employee is 28, with a quarter of all workers in the industry raising children. Almost a third have some college education. These jobs will only continue multiplying. According to July employment numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor, part-time work accounted for 65 percent of new positions hired by employers in July. Bars and restaurants contributed to half of this growth.
According the Project Bread’s SNAP and food stamps calculator, a single mom working 25 hours a week at minimum wage will make $1,200.00 prior to taxes. To best demonstrate what such a low salary will buy, here is an hypothetical scenario:
Jenny is a 28-year old single mom living with her five-year old daughter in Malden. Her one-bedroom apartment costs $1,200.00 a month, with water included. Jenny qualifies for $340.00 in SNAP benefits, which will pay for groceries. Considering the fact that $1,200.00 is exactly what she makes, prior to taxes, Jenny will have no money left over for heat, utilities, transportation, childcare, and other necessities SNAP does not cover. Luckily, since Jenny makes less than $1,939 a month, the federal poverty line for a family of two, she and Erica qualify for Mass Health insurance.
Friday morning, State Senator and Chair of the Housing and Workforce Development committee Thomas Conroy, and five labor organizers, delivered a letter to the Park Street Burger King location.
Mass Uniting communications director Reginald Zimmerman said, “The delegation presented a letter with the names of people who took part in the strike and gave them a letter that was asked of them, do not retaliate against the workers who went on strike. “ He was referring to Kyle King, a 45-year-old cashier at the Tremont Street Burger King, who was featured on the front page of the Boston Globe on Tuesday. As King began his shift on Wednesday morning, a manager told him his services were not needed for the day.
In an interview with Open Media Boston, King said, “On Tuesday, one of the organizers that brought a photocopy of the article from the Boston Globe, featuring me talking, everyone knew about it, including the managers. So the next day, Wednesday, they sent me home saying, “We don’t need your services for today.” The Burger King franchise did not fire him.
“They just sent me home,” he continued. Mr. King was asked by Open Media Boston on Thursday whether he intends to sue the franchisee. He said, “Well if I have this much backing, I guess I’ll sue. I will go ahead and do it.” Mr. King is hoping for an increase to the wage he is making, as he struggles to support his brother. “The minimum wages that we make here, we’re not cutting it. It’s just hard. When they asked me to join the movement, I thought, there are people fighting for US. This is great,” exclaimed King.
King was scheduled to work Friday afternoon. It is unclear whether or not he was able to work his shift.
Open Media Boston spoke with Burger King’s corporate office, where public relations representative Sophia Loner promised responses to questions about the reasoning behind Mr. King's dismissal from work. An hour later, a generic statement was sent in reply to multiple questions. “Over 99% of all BURGER KING® restaurants in the United States are independently owned and operated by third party franchisees. As a corporation, we respect the rights of all workers; however, Burger King Corp. does not make hiring, firing or other employment-related decisions for our franchisees.”
Many politicians, including District 9 Councilor Tito Jackson and City Councilor-at-Large Felix Arroyo attended the fast food pickets around the Commonwealth. At the Boston Common rally that concluded Thursday's activities, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said, "We have too many people in America working forty hours a week making the minimum wage. They’re working below the poverty level. They’re not even earning up to the $22,000 a year for a family of four. Now who can provide for a family on a minimum wage? That’s why we’re here. For those people who need a raise, to $9, $10, $11, $12 dollars, and higher! We’re here to insure workers have a right to live with dignity. We’re here to make sure people can bargain for themselves. We’re here to make sure people can have unions. We’re going to be insistent, consistent, and persistent, and fight.”