Fight for $15 Calls for Higher Wages in New York

June 15th 2015

Sarah Gray

Members of the Fight for $15 organization testified Monday at a minimum wage hearing in New York City. Hundreds of cooks and cashiers from McDonald's, KFC, and Burger King lined up to share the difficulties of raising a family on only $8.75 per hour -- New York's current minimum wage -- at a hearing held by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Wage Board.

Gov. Cuomo first called for the convening of a Wage Board, to lift the minimum wage for New York's fast food workers, back on May 7, 2015 -- the same day that he wrote a New York Times op-ed decrying the low wages of fast food workers while companies make high profits. "While workers in the fast food industry are struggling, the industry is healthy, having taken in $195 billion in global revenues last year, a sum that is projected to grow to $210 billion by 2018," Cuomo wrote in May. "McDonald’s brought in $4.67 billion last year; Burger King earned $291.1 million. The government is subsidizing these corporations, allowing them to keep their labor costs low and their profit margins high."

Cuomo directed the board to "to examine the minimum wage in the fast food industry" and make a recommendation on wages within three months; the recommendations will not require legislative action to go into effect. The minimum wage will raise to $9 an hour at the end of this year for New Yorkers.

Prior to the public hearing -- the second of five -- which took place at Judson Memorial Church in New York City, activists gathered to show their support for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

“My daughter Ashley is the light of my life," fast food worker Asha Ramdhanie said in a statement from today's rally. "It hurts so much to have to tell her why she can’t have new clothes or go see a movie with her friends, why we don’t have all the things we need.” Ramdhanie has been working for Popeye's for a decade and only makes $9.50 per hour.

The Fight for $15 movement began in New York City two-and-a-half years ago. It has since spread to cities all over the country, and the movement deemed April 15 a national day of action (which ATTN: covered extensively). Recently the movement scored a major victory in Los Angeles, where over the weekend Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a measure that would lift the minimum wage to $15 per hour by the year 2020. Los Angeles is the largest city to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage.

New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio also made a statement in favor raising wages for fast food workers.

“Cities across this country are heeding their people’s calls and providing a wage on which workers can live. It’s time for New York to catch up with the times – and raising the wage for fast food workers would be a critical first step. I urge the Wage Board to act now, because it’s key to moving New Yorkers out of poverty and moving our economy forward.”

According to the Fight for $15 movement, there are around 182,000 fast food workers in New York state, and many of them -- like in the rest of the nation -- rely on public assistance to get by due to their low wages.

"New York State ranks first in public assistance spending per fast food worker, $6,800 a year," Cuomo stated in his New York Times op-ed. "That’s a $700 million annual cost to taxpayers."

Nationally, taxpayers pay $7 billion in federal benefits for fast food workers, according to a 2013 report from the Center for Labor Research and Education at University of California, Berkeley. This amount spent on public assistance -- food stamps, medicated, and the Children's Health Insurance Fund -- are in effect a subsidy to large companies like McDonald's that do not pay their employees a living wage, while making large profits.

“The Wage Board has the power to do what McDonald's hasn’t been willing to do on their own: ensure I’m paid enough so I don’t have to rely on food stamps or Medicaid,” Jorel Ware, a 31-year-old McDonald's employee, said in a statement. “With the little we make right now, there’s just no other way to make ends meet. $15 an hour will mean we can get off public assistance and stand on our own two feet."

In terms of busting common myths about the minimum wage, fast food jobs are not just reserved for teenagers with after-school jobs. In New York state 71.5 percent of fast food workers are 21 years-of-age or older. Raising wages is also expected to help the economy rather than hurt it, according to New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, who estimates that raising wages to $15 per hour for fast food workers will add $1.3 billion a year back into the New York City economy. Learn more about minimum wage myths at ATTN:.