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Protesters rally in support of minimum wage hike for fast food workers

Daniel X. O'Neil

Cities across the country saw strikes Thursday as part of a campaign by fast food workers to raise the federal minimum wage. The movement faces strong opposition both within and outside the fast food industry.

Walkouts were planned in at least 100 cities in support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, roughly $15,000 per year for a full-time job.

The fast food industry claims that raising wages would be difficult without bumping up the prices on their menus too.

But Richard Burkhauser, professor of public policy at Cornell University, says there’s a danger to raising the minimum wage that goes beyond pricier burgers.

“I think if you want to feel good rather than do good, then a minimum wage policy is the policy for you. It sounds good, people claim that it’s going to help the working poor, but in reality we know that that just doesn’t happen. In fact, it kills jobs.”

Burkhauser says new pay levels would likely see staff cuts by employers.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell, says the changing makeup of the fast food workforce negates that argument.

She says raising the minimum wage would actually assist job growth and the economy.

“These are not kids. The workers who work in these places are adults with families, and so when you raise their wages they are going to get off welfare, get off food stamps, and move into the economy,” she said.

In Binghamton, about 30 protesters lined the sidewalk outside a McDonalds as part of the campaign. They weren’t employees of fast food restaurants, but members of the progressive group, Citizen Action New York.    

“The minimum wage is way too low," said Bonnie Wilson. "People can’t even afford to buy food and pay their rent.”

“Well, we are here because we feel that McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and other fast food places are not being fair to their employees so we are here today for fair wages,” Euphemia Martin said.

“It’s about raising awareness," Amy Fleming noted. "It’s about letting people know that people can’t survive on minimum wage.  They cannot survive on the rules and regulations of the fast food places.”

“Kids aren’t working in these restaurants any more," Orazio Salati said. "They are adults.  Adults that are trying to feed a family or even making their rent.  And it is important that they get a decent wage.”

Support for wage hikes has been more successful at the state level. Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. currently have minimum wages higher than the federal level.

New York state’s minimum wage remains at $7.25, but it’s scheduled to rise to $9 per hour by the end of 2015.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail