paycheck to paycheck

New York City Fast-Food Workers on How They Get By on $8 per Hour — and What a Bump to $15 Would Mean

Photo: Tim Murphy

Hundreds of fast-food workers conducted the latest in a series of one-day strikes yesterday, protesting in front of two McDonald’s franchises — one in Times Square and one in Hell’s Kitchen. The strikes, organized by the national group Fast Food Forward and happening alongside protests yesterday in three dozen cities, are part of a growing national campaign, started in late 2012, to raise fast-food worker wages to a $15 per hour minimum and to allow workers to unionize. The push has yielded some successes: Seattle has raised its minimum wage to $15 and San Francisco is considering it. Here in New York City, Mayor de Blasio says he supports a minimum above a newly proposed statewide minimum of $10.10, but hasn’t said how much exactly.

We went to the late-morning strike and asked workers, most of whom make the current New York State minimum wage of $8 an hour and bring home after-tax weekly paychecks of about $200, what bills they currently struggle to pay and what they’d be able to afford if their wages were nearly doubled. 

Photo: Tim Murphy

Jorel Ware, 31, Bronx
McDonald’s staffer, $8 per hour, average after-tax weekly check: $160

What does your paycheck cover?
My phone bill and my MetroCard. My girlfriend pays the rent. I’m lucky she loves me. But I want my own apartment. I know I can do it. I actually found a nice one-bedroom in Manhattan for $1,000.

Are you the only one striking from this McDonald’s here at 56th and Eighth?
Seventy-five percent of us here are striking. It’s not tense with our managers. Some of us took the day off. 

Personally, why are you striking?
I want to be able to buy a house eventually and rent it to low-income families. This is my second time striking. I’m finally taking a step to make my life better. 

Photo: Tim Murphy

LaToya Walker, 25, Jamaica, Queens
McDonald’s staffer, $8 per hour, average weekly check after taxes: $250

What does your paycheck cover? 
I have five kids — two sets of twins and one boy. We all live in one room in a shelter. My whole check goes to food and Pampers. 

If the minimum hourly were raised to $15, you’d bring home about $500 a week. What would you do with that?
I’d save it up to get an apartment. I’m not picky about where. I believe that $15 an hour for the work we do is right. I’m losing eight hours of work today to be here.

Photo: Tim Murphy

Huntley Francis, 55, Jamaica, Queens
McDonald’s staffer for 14 years, $8.20 per hour; weekly take-home after taxes: $230

Where does your check go?
To my MetroCard and my rent ($850). I get food stamps for food. 

You’d bring home about $500 weekly with the $15 wage raise. What would you do with it?
It’d be easier to make the rent. I’d buy some new clothes, too. 

Photo: Tim Murphy

Jose Sanchez, 32, Washington Heights
Deliveryman for Domino’s, $6.40 per hour plus tips; average weekly take-home after taxes: $250

How is your manager taking the fact that you are striking?
I was getting 40 to 45 hours of work a week before striking, now I’m getting 25 to 30. He’s punishing me. But I have a right to protest for a fair wage. I’m looking for a second job right now because it’s not easy to pay my rent. ($600 for a room)

What else would you do with a wage hike?
I wouldn’t be so worried all the time. I’d also send money to my family in Mexico. I might buy a beer more often, too.

What’s it like being part of a strike?
I’ve learned a lot; I see how other people struggle, too. I feel different now at work. Before, I didn’t exist there, but now they respect me. My relationship with my manager isn’t good right now. The majority of people at my workplace are striking.

Do you think New York is a fair city?
In many ways. But you have to struggle to make it here.

Photo: Tim Murphy

Dallaina (last name withheld), 20, Bronx
Monroe College student and McDonald’s staffer, $8 per hour; average weekly check after taxes: $130

What does your paycheck go to?
My phone, my MetroCard, and food. I live with my mom and sister. If the wage were raised to $15, working part-time I’d bring home around $250 a week. I’d save for my own apartment. Now, I still have to ask my mom for money. I’ll have about $6,000 in college loans, too. 

Does your work manager know you’re striking?
Yes. We want a union, too. We’d get more respect from managers; they couldn’t just fire us for no reason.

What do you want to do after college?
Be a gynecologist. I love female health.

Photo: Tim Murphy

Dijon Thornton, 23, Bronx
Wendy’s worker, $8 per hour, average weekly check after taxes: $200

Where does your paycheck go?
It all goes to rent, which is $500. I live with my brother. My mom helps with the cable. I used to go to SUNY Oneonta but I couldn’t afford to stay. It costs $10,000 a year.

What would you do with a wage hike?
I’d go right back to school here in the city, like at BMCC (Borough of Manhattan Community Colllege). I can’t transfer my credits from Oneonta until I pay my debt from them. But I’ll go back to school eventually. I want to learn electromagnetics and work for the MTA

How’d you get involved in striking?
There was an activist from Fast Food Forward outside of Wendy’s. He asked us, “Are you really making enough?” At first, I was offended. Then I put my ego aside and I thought, He’s right. We deserve $15 an hour and a union. 

What’s your job like?
It’s a very speedy job and some people talk badly to us, but you’re still supposed to smile all the way through the shift. You can’t explode. Not that I want to.

My manager offered me a manager job, which pays $9 to $10 an hour, if I’d stop striking. She said we’d never get $15 an hour. But the top executives at the company are making $2,000 an hour. My family doesn’t really understand what I’m doing striking. But I’m proud I’m pushing this battle forward.

What do you do for luxury?
I bought a bike from a friend for $50 so I don’t have to pay for a MetroCard to work. That’s why my arm’s in a sling — a bike accident.

Photo: Tim Murphy

Alvin Major, 48, Bushwick
KFC cook, $8 per hour; average weekly check after taxes: $250

What does your paycheck go to?
Rent. It’s $1,000 a month. I have a top floor of an apartment with my wife and four kids. I’m backed up three months on the rent right now. My wife’s not working — she has cancer. My oldest daughter just started at SUNY Buffalo. We get food stamps and we do all our cooking at home. 

What would you do with a $500 weekly check?
Pay my bill — phone, lights, gas. This is my seventh time striking. I don’t enjoy it, but I know it’s the right thing to do. I want to send all four of my kids to college.

What famous person in New York needs to get behind the $15 minimum wage push?
De Blasio. He was out here with us before he became mayor.

Photo: Tim Murphy

Jose Carillo, 81, Midtown
Part-time lobby cleaner at a midtown McDonald’s since 2008, $8 per hour, average weekly take-home: $130 (also receives Social Security)

Don’t you want to retire?
If I retire, I’ll die faster. I enjoy working. It keeps me physically and mentally strong. I’ll stop when God tells me to. 

You told me you have a subsidized rent of $354 a month. You’re not struggling to get by, so why are you striking?
It’s not just for me but for future generations. I have three grandchildren. I’m the only one striking from my McDonald’s. They suspended me for a week because they said I was recruiting other workers inside the store. But I was doing it outside.

What would you do with extra money from a pay raise?
Give it to my family so they can go to college. I want better for them. I came here from Peru 20 years ago and lived in a shelter at first.

Do you take the workers’ discount at McDonald’s?
I only eat the salads.

How NYC’s Fast-Food Workers Get By on $8/Hour