NEW YORK FAST FOOD WORKERS ON PASSAGE OF THE $15 WAGE: ‘IT’S A DREAM COME TRUE’

Jul 25, 2015 by

CREDIT: Bryce Covert/ThinkProgress

Inside the New York wage board meeting just after the vote

On Wednesday, the wage board New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) convened unanimously passed a proposal for a $15 an hour minimum wage for the state’s fast food industry. The labor commissioner is expected to approve the recommendation and issue a wage order raising these workers’ pay to at least that amount. The minimum wage for fast food workers will reach $15 an hour in New York City by 2018 and in the rest of the state by 2021.

Rebecca Cornick

Rebecca Cornick

CREDIT: Bryce Covert/ThinkProgress

Outside of the final wage board hearing in lower Manhattan where its decision was announced, Rebecca Cornick, who has worked at Wendy’s for nine years and makes $9 an hour, said that a $15 minimum wage will have a huge impact on her life. “I’d stay out of rent court, I’d be able to put food on my table, I won’t have to pay exorbitant late fees for my rent,” she said. “It’s going to be amazing, it’s going to be a relief.”

She noted that it’s “impossible” to live on her current pay. “I have to do other things in order to make the money to compensate for my rent and for my food,” she said. It was her daughter who got her involved with the Fight for 15 campaign that has been pushing for higher wages in fast food, and she said she did that “because she was tired of seeing me suffer and live in poverty.” So Cornick got involved. “My back was against the wall. I didn’t know what else to do but to step forward.”

All that is different now. Her daughter “thought this would be a solution, and it turned out to be the best solution to the problem,” she said with a smile and a laugh.

Jorel Ware

Jorel Ware

CREDIT: Bryce Covert/ThinkProgress

Jorel Ware has worked at McDonald’s for almost three years and makes $8.75 an hour. “Words can’t explain,” he said of how he felt about the wage board’s vote. “It’s a dream come true.”

The eventual hike to $15 an hour will mean a lot for him. “I don’t make nothing and I work full time,” he said. “Finally I’ll be able to move out of poverty eventually.” He noted that rent and other aspects of the cost of living are so expensive, he feels he needs a higher wage “in order to survive.”

While some may have had their doubts that such a wage would actually happen, Ware never doubted. “Everybody else didn’t think it would happen. ‘Oh you flip burgers, you’ll never get 15, you don’t deserve 15,’” he said. “Here we are, proving everybody wrong.”

New York was home to the first strike in the fast food industry in 2012, which was a one-day, one-city event at the time. Since then, the strikes have spread all across the country accompanied for a call to be paid at least $15 an hour.

Cuomo had previously won a minimum wage increase for all workers in the state to $9 and then had proposed another hike to $10.50 ($11.50 in New York City), but the state legislature blocked it. That led him to call on his authority under state law to convene wage boards and raise wages for particular industries if they are deemed inadequate.

New York isn’t the first place to heed the call of striking fast food workers. San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles all passed minimum wages that will eventually hit $15 an hour, and on Tuesday Los Angeles County voted to do the same. Emeryville, California has gone further, passing a $16 minimum wage.

The $15 an hour level has also made it all the way to Congress, as Sen. Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison (MN), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus released a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage that high earlier on Wednesday.

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