As rush hour hit at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, hundreds of workers dressed in white lab coats marched and danced down 63st St. toward Central Park to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Dressed to represent health care workers, they sang: “We’re over worked. And under paid. We’re over worked and underpaid! All we want is $15! We’re overworked and underpaid!”
In a nationwide protest, workers walked out of their jobs or joined rallies in 235 cities on tax day to call attention to the fight for a $15 minimum wage. The demonstrators included fast food workers, home healthcare workers, airport workers, construction workers and adjunct professors marching together.
In New York City, the day began with a protest outside of a McDonald’s in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Nearly a thousand demonstrators showed up at 6 a.m. and blocked traffic at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue Extension and Fulton Street.
By 4 p.m. low-wage workers and supporters of the Fight for $15 campaign gathered near Columbus Circle in Manhattan for a rally and march to Times Square.
Anthony Mann, 45, works in a carpet cleaning business, and was at Columbus Square holding up a giant $15 bill made of cardboard. Both his sister and 17-year old daughter work at McDonald’s. “It’s not easy. [The cost of] everything is going up,” said Mann. “Between what my daughter makes and what I make, I can’t even get her sneakers.”
Responding to the national movement for higher wages that has grown over the past two years, McDonald’s announced on April 1 that company-owned restaurants would begin paying workers $1 above the current minimum wage. The fast food chain followed a similar move by national retailer, Walmart.
“We know that a motivated workforce leads to better customer service so we believe this initial step not only benefits our employees, it will improve the McDonald’s restaurant experience,” McDonald’s President and CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement.
The Fight for $15 organizers think McDonald’s can do better. They point out that the recent move by McDonald’s excludes workers at franchise-owned restaurants, and even $1 extra leaves employees well below the $15 goal.
Some protesters chanted, “Hey McDonald’s let’s be blunt, your raise is just a PR Stunt.” A masked man at Columbus Circle held up a cardboard McDonald’s monster devouring a “McWorker.”
But the mood at the Columbus Circle rally was hopeful and celebratory, with participants bobbing their heads and shaking their signs to brass bands and Caribbean steel drums.
Sophia Campbell, 34, was among those dancing to music. “I’m a union baby,” said Campbell, an executive secretary with Service Employees International Union 1199. Her stepfather, a plumber and delegate for 1199, introduced her to union organizing. Now she’s helping him push for a $15 wage. “They did it in Seattle,” said Campbell. “What about New York City where the cost of living is way higher?”
As young rappers from Brooklyn performed on a stage on 60th Street, a few suits from nearby Trump International Hotel & Tower peaked outside to watch the show.
Not long after the rap set, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer took the stage. “The [minimum wage] is a starvation wage,” Stringer told the crowd. “It’s a dream-killing wage. This wage is insulting and inhumane.”
On Tuesday, Stringer released a report saying that a minimum wage boost to $15 would add $10 billion to city workers’ paychecks and save taxpayers $200 to $500 million a year in food stamp and Medicaid spending.
“This makes economic sense for our city,” Stringer said. “Do you agree?”
The crowd roared its approval.