Workers Fight for Fair Wages and Will Win

On a cold November morning in 2012, some 200 fast food workers at places like McDonald's and Burger King started an improbable journey with a one-day strike at a handful of restaurants to demand a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

The fast food giants -- like McDonald's, Wendy's, Domino's, and Taco Bell -- the media, and skeptics the world over said it couldn't be done.

Yet months later the strike spread not only across New York, but to more than 50 sites across the country. Then, much to the surprise of many, they spread across the world hundreds of locations on six continents.

No longer is this seen as an impossible dream. With some cities and counties around the country raising their minimum wages to up to $15 an hour, it seems to be a matter of not if but when we will prevail on behalf of millions of workers who try to support themselves and their families on poverty wages of as little as $15,000 annually.

We who work with fast food and other low-wage workers took our fight to a whole new level last week with civil disobedience protests at dozens of fast food restaurants like McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King across the country.

In the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the lunch-counter sit-ins of 1960, the freedom rides in 1961, and the marches through Selma in 1965, dozens of fast food workers sat in front of fast food restaurants and were arrested when they refused to move.

And what a glorious day it was -- plastic handcuffs and all.

Twenty-one workers demanding $15-an-hour wages were arrested outside a McDonald's on 42nd Street in Times Square in New York City on disorderly conduct charges for blocking traffic. Another 50 were arrested in Detroit and scores of others were cuffed and taken away in Chicago and Las Vegas, among other cities.

Most of these workers are not teenagers working part-time, but adults trying to support themselves on as little as $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage in most states around the country. Even the $8-an-hour minimum wage is New York is nowhere near enough.

The success of the fast food fight has been astounding in many ways. It certainly has been one of the reasons that some cities across the country have agreed to gradually raise their minimum wage to $13 or $15 an hour.

And here in New York, state lawmakers and candidates for the Legislature have banded together to tie the fast food fight to the battle to raise New York's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour -- indexed to the cost of living - and to let cities and counties around the state augment that by up to 30 percent to reflect local living costs.

Fast Food workers like José Carrillo, an 81-year-old McDonald's maintenance worker who in 10 years has only received a 10-cent raise to $8.10, say they are willing to do whatever it takes to win $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.

Moreover, President Obama has lent his support. In a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee he said: "All across the country right now there's a national movement going on made up of fast food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity."

Though we grabbed lots of public attention with the latest round of strikes, we realize our work is far from over. The big corporations are determined to beat back attempts to raise wages and allow workers to unionize.

They will fight us to the very end. But in the end, we will win.