New York City's Fast-Food Strike Emboldens Low-Wage Workers Throughout The City And Beyond

04/12/2013 11:20 am ET | Updated Apr 12, 2013

A week after hundreds of fast-food workers went on strike in New York City, organizers and workers say enthusiasm has grown for their efforts, despite some experts' doubts that the drive will lead to the goal of a $15 minimum hourly wage.

At a Domino's on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Anatole Yameogo, a 43-year-old delivery worker from Burkina Faso, persuaded only one other worker to strike with him last Thursday.

But when he went back to work the following day, other employees applauded him, he said. "The other people are ready now. I explained to them what we are doing is not only for us. It is for everybody. They don't have to sit down and look at other people fight for them. They have to stand up."

Yameogo was part of a citywide strike to push for a $15 minimum wage organized by the Fast Food Forward campaign, a labor effort launched last fall by New York Communities for Change. Jonathan Westin, the group's director, described the campaign as one front in a fight for better wages in low-paying industries and companies around the country, including car-washes, supermarkets and Walmart stores.

In November, about 200 New York fast-food workers at 30 stores went on strike for a $15 hourly wage, an action that Westin said was inspired by a similar exploit by Walmart workers.

This time, about 400 workers walked out. "And we believe they'll be even more emboldened after this one," said Westin. "The more they continue to show that they have power in their stores, the more they'll continue to be involved."

AnnMarie Wallace, a 29-year-old cashier at a Burger King in Brooklyn, was one of 10 workers who walked out, succeeding in shutting down the store for the day. The next day, a co-worker approached her and asked about the next strike, she said.

"Before the strike, she was afraid," she said. "But she saw that nothing happened when we went back to work. No one was fired and they didn't cut our hours."

Nelson Lichenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said he was impressed with the New York campaign and expected it to help build support for President Barack Obama's recent proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.

At the same time, he doubted that it would lead to a collective bargaining agreement between workers and corporations. "Organizing per se in classic collective bargaining terms is difficult and it's not what we're going to end up seeing," he said.

Although the strike was confined to New York's fast-food industry, workers in other cities and industries say they've felt its effects.

Michael Ahles, a 21-year-old Walmart employee in Sauk Center, Minn., said he's seen a surge of enthusiasm for the strike on the internet in his capacity as online leader for Our Walmart, a group that has led recent low-wage organizing efforts.

"It blew up like crazy on Facebook," he said. "It was one of the main things I saw posted by just about everybody I know. I think it's kind of one of those things that's got to play itself out to see how it goes, but it could have a huge effect later on as more people get more educated about why people are standing up for better wages in work places."

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