- NYC 06/16/2015 by Linda Perry (WBAI News)
Héctor Figueroa , 32BJ SEIU testifying at the Fast Food Wage Board, June 15, 2015
The Fast Food Wage Board met in NYC to hear testimony about raising the minimum wage for Fast Food workers in New York State to $15 per hour. This would benefit an estimated 180,000 workers.
“Working for Dominoes is really, really tough, especially because I only get two days. That’s it. Two days a week,” said 21-year-old Rashon Robinson. “My last check really hurt my heart because when I pulled it out of the envelope, I saw $193.00. $193.00 is nothing.”
Robinson is one of many Fast Food Workers who work fewer than 30 hours a week. Some are on-call workers who say that some weeks they don’t work at all. Robinson says that he’s not on the street selling drugs or committing crimes. He has no criminal record. He lives with his aunt and little cousin, and sometimes they can’t make rent.
“I have days where I think that maybe I should go out there and commit a crime just so I have some money in my pocket to eat. Sometimes I’ve even gone a whole week without eating. The only time I would have a chance to eat was when I went to work for those two days. My co-worker would say ‘Rashon, why are you always eating when you come to work?’ That made me feel ashamed because why am I always eating when I come to work and I work. I should be able to buy a decent meal for myself as a man.”
Robinson’s story of extreme poverty was recounted by different voices throughout the day.
“I’m tired of having to go through these struggles when I work so many hours, when I put in as much work as any other citizen,” said 19-year-old Evalise Perez, who has been working at McDonald’s for two years. She’s a high school student who works 30 hours a week, sometimes 36 hours per week. She needs to work because her mom is suffering from a health problem.
“Our rent is a thousand dollars a month plus utilities. I’m the only one she has to depend on because we do get food stamps, but we don’t have assisted housing. We live in a regular apartment. Welfare did help the situation—they offered to pay $300.00 worth of rent—but I still have to come up with $700.00 for rent plus utilities and anything else in the house that food stamps couldn’t buy.”
Perez is typical of a Fast Food Worker who relies on government assistance because of the low wages she’s being paid.
“There’s so many people who say, ‘Oh, people depend on the government because they’re lazy or because it’s convenient for them. But they don’t know the struggles. We don’t do it because we want to—we do it because we have no other choice. I make $8.75 an hour with train fare more expensive than gas and rent going up every day. We have no other choice but to depend on the government to help us out. Some people may say, ‘Well, why not something lower than $15? Why such a big jump?’ Anything lower than $15 would not be surviving. It would just be keeping our heads above water. We’re not asking for more than $15 because we don’t want to be rich. We just want to be able to survive and live a stable life without having to depend on the government.”
The National Restaurant association says raising the minimum wage for fast food workers would negatively impact businesses across New York State.
“This claim—that when wages go up, employment comes down—is a scam. It’s a con-job. Its an intimidation tactic.” Billionaire Nick Hanauer of Seattle came to testify at the New York Fast Food Wage Board. “When restaurants pay restaurant workers enough so that even they can afford to eat in restaurants, that’s not bad for the restaurant business, that’s good for it, despite what the national restaurant association may tell you.”
The Wage Board asked Héctor Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU, about what it heard from some in the industry that it could be a negative impact from raising the minimum wage. Figueroa said that when you raise wages across the board in any market, and you don’t put any one business at a competitive disadvantage, the business community adjusts.
“Why? Because the service is still being on demand. And then people will be able to pay maybe a little bit—not the kind of inflation they’re talking about but the kind that allows productivity to come in place and really ultimately lead to better service and ultimately more profit margins for those involved. So we think that a low wage economy is not helpful in our cities. It leads to waste, it leads to public subsidies, it leads to despair, loss of hope, and our communities should do better.”
The Wage Board will make its recommendation to the New York State Labor Commissioner this summer. An increase won’t need legislative approval to be enacted.