In the two years since 20-year-old Ambar Caba began working at a McDonald’s in midtown New York, she’s worked her way up from the bottom rung to floor manager.
"When they moved me to manager, they gave me a raise of 50 cents,” said Caba, who now earns $7.75.
But Caba says that’s not enough to stay afloat in New York City, which is why she joined an estimated 400 other fast food workers in striking today. Their demands: $15 an hour and the right to unionize.
The strike, which includes protests at several fast food restaurants around the city, is the second walkout organized by the advocacy group Fast Food Forward in half a year. A November protest drew about 200 workers.
As about 100 protesters stood outside a Wendy’s near the corner of West 34th Street and Eighth Avenue chanting “We can’t survive on $7.25,” the lunch rush brought a stream of customers to the restaurant. Diners filtered past the commotion and through police-guarded double-doors, where a crew of Wendy’s employees busily served up orders of Double Stacks and fries.
From inside the restaurant, they could hear the shouts of their colleagues demanding an hourly pay based on the local cost of living. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimates that $12.75 is living wage for a single New Yorker, but that figure dramatically increases for parents. Living Wage for a single mother or father in New York City is $24.69, according to MIT.
In a statement e-mailed to Zagat, McDonald’s said employees are paid “competitive wages,” and are given opportunities to move up in the company “from crew to management.”
"We value and respect all the employees who work at McDonald's restaurants. The majority of McDonald’s restaurants in New York and across the country are owned and operated by independent business men and women,” the company said. Wendy’s did not return calls seeking comment.
Caba said her bosses hinted that striking could affect her hours.
“I was told we cannot get fired for striking, but… other people can come work instead of us," Caba said.
For 24-year-old Alterique Hall, the threat of a cut in hours wasn’t enough to keep him from protesting.
“I've been here three years, there's not much more they could do to discourage me,” said Hall, who works at a McDonald’s near Times Square.
"So it's like, yeah, I'm on strike, but what are you going to do? Cut the hours down? You did that already,” Hall said.