Edwin Guzman already lost his job once for union-organizing. But today, he and several hundred fast food workers across New York City are on strike anyway.
A few weeks ago, an organizer with the Fast Food Forward campaign, begun by New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other labor and community groups walked into the Burger King in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where Guzman works. He had a petition with him, calling for a raise to $15-an-hour and union recognition for the workers. Guzman and some of his colleagues signed.
Not long afterward, he had to take a couple of days off for a court date—he was being evicted from his apartment, in part because of his steadily decreasing hours and low pay at his job. Like most of the city’s fast food workers, he makes just $7.25 an hour and struggles with irregular scheduling. When he returned to work, his supervisor called him in to talk.
“He told me he had to let me go,” Guzman explained. “He felt like I disrespected him. He felt violated that I signed the petition.”
When Guzman told the organizers what had happened, they explained to him that firing workers for union activity is illegal, and that they’d support him if he wanted to fight back. With the help of City Councilman Brad Lander, after a meeting with the boss, Guzman and one of his other coworkers were reinstated. That cemented his commitment to the union campaign.
Today is the second citywide day of strikes in New York’s fast food industry. On November 29, 2012, some 200 workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and Domino’s Pizza locations across multiple boroughs struck in what Jonathan Westin, executive director of NYCC, called “their coming out party.” Before that, Westin explained, the workers had been organizing behind the scenes, keeping their plans quiet. Now, he said, even in the face of intimidation from their bosses, the workers have been able to grow their movement.
“We’ll have double the number of strikers, four or five hundred workers on strike, and double the locations too,” Westin said. “We will have several stores where it will not just be minority strikes like it was last time, we will have the majority of workers at several stores out on strikes, making it hard for them to do business on this day.”