In case you live under a rock and missed it...yesterday in NYC approximately 400 fast food workers went on a one day strike to demand higher wages and the right to unionize without fear of intimidation or retailiation. In fact last night, Chris Hayes did two segments on his show dedicated to this that really hit home for me. Follow me below the fold to watch the videos and see why it means so much to me.
So why is this such a big deal to me personally? Many of you know my story...some of you even ate at my restaurant back in the day but for those that don't know...
For 20+ years I worked in the restaurant industry. From cashier at Burger King to Manager to Serving to Bartending to Cooking to Owning there's really not a version of a job in a restaurant I haven't done from Fast Food to Fine Dining. We didn't have a union...hell we didn't even dream of forming one. All we cared about was surviving the shift, going home, going to sleep and getting to work on time the next day.
So when I sat down to watch this video, after having been warned that it was making people choke up a little, I knew it would hit me, but I didn't realize just how hard.
First, the bravery of these people to do this is just incomprehensible. If you haven't ever worked for minimum wage I don't know that there's anyway to help you connect to this but I'm gonna try. See, these people work 40 and more hours a week in order to go work 40 hours a week somewhere else just so they can do simple things like pay rent, buy shoes to wear to work (most restaurants require you wear special no slip sneakers that are NOT cheap by any definition of cheap...the cheap ones start at like $30 bucks a pair and they wear out in six months or less). And yesterday they risked that in order to stand up for themselves, their coworkers and colleagues all over the country.
They risked losing what little they do make in order to stand up and be heard.
When I worked in restaurants not only did we not do that, I don't think I or anyone I know even thought about doing such a thing. Instead, we worked anywhere from 1.5 hours (in AZ in those days if you showed up to work they had to let you work an hour and a half before sending you home on a slow day) for minimum wage which back then was $4.25/hour for non tipped employees (and I should note that when I made it into management at Burger King my hourly was increased to a whopping $5.35 an hour) up to in one shift from hell I remember 18 hours. We stood on our feet all shift, and often if one of our customers errr guests were having a bad day yep we took the brunt of it.
It's even worse for tipped employees. Federal minimum wage is $2.13 an hour. You can't even imagine the feeling in your stomach when you go to a table after they've left and there's no tip not one penny. See, tipped employees have to at minimum report hourly tips that make the difference between that $2.13 and the minimum of $7.25 or whatever it is that day. So when there's no tip it's like having money stolen from you because you still have to pay taxes on money you didn't make! Oh and benefits? hahahahahhahahahahah yeah right. I did work at one chain as a bartender that gave us a bare minimum health plan on day one of employment that was pretty much worthless but no where ever did I get paid sick time, let alone paid vacation time. Yep, I won't deny it. As a server...as a cook...as a bartender I can't even count the number of shifts I worked while sick. Didn't have a choice...not only could I not afford to miss work, but in some restaurants calling out sick would result in getting fired. Sadly, that's just a true today as it was over 20 years ago.
So yeah...hearing about these workers on strike yesterday wasn't just some remote thing I cheer about from a far... I hold those workers up as heroes.
1:21 PM PT: So I kinda forgot one important factoid: This strike (and the one in Nov) was organized by the workers with the help of one of my favorite progressive orgs New York Communities for Change...if you can spare a few bucks here's how you can help to support these brave workers