Jumaane Williams Says McDonald’s Is Robbing Workers, Low Wages Are “Bull”


Fast food workers walked off the job yesterday to rally for higher wages, reports Gothamist. Strikes have hit restaurants in the neighborhood, including a Burger King on Flatbush Ave and a KFC on Nostrand Ave.

Council Member Jumaane Williams attended an afternoon rally in Times Square where he gave a fiery speech in support of the workers.

Enough is enough. You deserve an honest days pay for an honest days work McDonald’s says billions and billions served and they aren’t even offering sick days or able to pay you for an honest days work? That’s some bull- ish! They are robbing these workers. These workers can’t afford to pay for food for their own table, they can’t afford to send their kids to school, they can’t afford all the luxuries we have. What I’m hoping is that the whole world can see what’s going on here, that there is tremendous amounts of money in this industry and you’re the one who is suffering. Martin Luther King once said, ‘A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.’ We are straightening our backs today, we are walking tall! We will not be defeated, we will stand here and strike until it’s over! You can have you food but can we eat too?

Several other local politicians weighed in:

Will this change the way you patronize fast food chains?

Comment policy


  1. it is certainly acceptable for workers to stage a walkout. now, the employers can either go through the process of hiring all new staff or perhaps raise salaries voluntarily. They’ll most likely choose option 2 but it should be their choice. minimum wage is a farce. who’s to say what the hourly wage should be? wouldn’t $100/hr. be better? if so, then why don’t they make that the law? I suspect if I asked those fast food workers they’d prefer $100/hr.

  2. I feel for the workers, but that guy is such a caricature, always with that black panther wannabe rhetoric, he makes you want to take the other side.

  3. @8495158a565c3295b2125cfda6b43b65:disqus. Always open to ideas to help people better, so I’d love to hear any you have. I did look up the definition of caricature just to be certain and its: “exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics.” Mmmmm…maybe 🙂 though I do think everything I said is true. These industries make astronomical amounts of money and workers get peanuts, and are can’t support their families. As for “black panther wannabe,” can you be a little clearer on the critique. I do try to learn and get better at doing my job. If it is their gusto that helped create programs like free lunches in school then yes. If it was some of the organizational deficiencies that ultimately was their demise, then no. Have a great weekend.

  4. I don’t doubt that these particular jobs are quite miserable in more ways then one, in some respects, their suppose to be. Its part of being American. To dislike your current position and make changes to improve your life and situation. Personally, my own family serves as an example of such. We came into this country without speaking english. My parents worked minimum wage jobs and I had worked summer jobs when I was old enough. My father just retired after starting and running a successful construction business for twenty five years. We own our own homes, we all have jobs that compensate us properly, and we live comfortably. Sure, some people we know had assisted us on getting off our feet, but it wasn’t pure generosity, it was the often that those people could see the ethical value and fortitude in my parents and we would return that generosity in kind. It was also the big recession during the eighties that made things even that much harder.

    So while I’m certain that some concessions can be made, certain jobs will remain as low paying, difficult, and unrewarding as they are today. Obviously this conversation has many more sides then we could in this forum, the end principal is that I don’t quite fully agree that every job must be a nice cushy ride. A well balanced person needs challenges to overcome so they can look at themselves and decide they deserve better. It builds pride and a sense of worth when you succeed.

  5. Ok, I’ll admit that my choice of words wasn’t the best either.

    Anyway, while the workers deserve sympathy (as do all honest, hard-working, low-earning people), I think that type of belligerent language – “the whole world can see…”, “we are straightening our backs”, “we will not be defeated” etc. sounds like old-school, hardcore ideology and doesn’t really help such workers get that sympathy.

  6. Fair wages? That’s determined by the willingness of workers to accept what’s offered. If McDonald’s got no takers at their current offered wage, then the company would raise the wage.

    Meanwhile, there are other hamburger joints in the area — Checkers, for one. If the McDonald’s workers all quit or are fired, some of the Checker’s workers will undoubtedly step in and fill those vacant posts.

  7. Jumaane Williams — McDonalds operates 34,000 restaurants in 120 countries. Annual revenue is now about $27 Billion. Net income is about $5 billion.

    How profitable is the local McDonald’s? You’ll have to ask the local franchise owner. I’ll bet the local sites are less profitable than sites elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, there’s plenty of other hamburger joints for unhappy McDonald’s workers to switch to. Five Guys is opening places. And new burger joints are opening all over Manhattan.

    What are employers supposed to do? Hostess is now out of business because its unions overwhelmed the company’s finances.

    Do you remember Stella d’Oro Cookies? Stella used to have a bakery in the Bronx. Workers went on strike for higher wages. Management explained the financial situation, saying higher wages would force the bakery to close. Well, it closed.

    Now it operates in another state. But instead of worrying about wages at McDonald’s you should tell people it’s bad to eat that Mickey D’s food.

    There’s plenty of room for entrepreneurs who can sell healthy food at affordable prices. So tell your constituents to start something.

  8. I disagree, r_squared.

    If I am participating at a rally and elected officials come out to support my position, I do not want to hear a passive and relaxed speech. I want my elected official to be fired up as much as, and even more than, I am.

    If I have employment issues, health care issues, salary issues or any other important issue, I want my elected official to demonstrate that they feel my pain and suffering. After all, I am among the tax payers who are paying their salary.

    Given the large amount of money that McDonald’s and other fast food chains are making, what is the problem in providing the workers with a fare living wage, sick time, vacation time, and health plan?

    I want my elected official to be “belligerent” at the rally, and when he/she meets with the fast food executives. I do not want the elected official to be polite and friendly with the “enemy”, for the purpose of securing a good position when he/she can no longer run for office. In 2012, there is no reason for McDonald’s and other fast food companies to mistreat their employees in such a manner.

    I want the whole world (i.e., dedicated customers) to see my pain and hurt. I need help to straighten my back so that I can stand with confidence. I want to be assured that I will not be defeated, but will have victory.

  9. funny how most, if not all, of the folks there protesting most likely do not employ anyone with their own money. however, if they did wonder how they’d feel if I tried to dictate how much their employees should be compensated. employers and employees need to have an environment of free association. an employer shouldn’t be able to force someone to work and on the flip side an employee shouldn’t have the ability to use force either.

  10. Maybe the government should open a hamburger stand and pay workers, say, $25 an hour with full healthcare coverage, a 401-K plan where the employer matches the worker’s contribution, and maybe the workers should enjoy a policy that limits lay-offs.

    A plan like this would be popular, even if the hamburger stand lost a lot of money. Even if there were other hamburger joints serving better burgers for less, or serving them faster, or serving them in a more convenient way.

    The government could run its own restaurant business and it could bring in management and front-line workers from the Post Office.

  11. If McDonald’s is robbing workers, then what do you call the treatment of employees at every shop and store along Flatbush Avenue? Is McDonald’s different from Gamestop, or Cookies? From the jerk chicken and roti shops? The beauty shops and barber shops?

  12. “Hostess is now out of business because its unions overwhelmed the company’s finances.”

    Not true, the unions made concessions for years. Hostess was run by vultures at the top.

  13. I have to laugh when I read posts by ill-informed ideologues who honestly believe there is any sort of true negotiation of wages at low-wage jobs between the workers and the owners. The negotiation is basically take it or leave it. That’s why minimum wage and fair wage laws exist in the first place — to raise the floor, even if ever so slightly. Anybody actually defending McDonalds or similar here really has to question the company they keep. Seriously, people here are DEFENDING McDonalds? That’s the side of this debate you want to be on? All workers in the US, with few exceptions, have the right to organize and bargain collectively. If they didn’t, we’d still all have to work six days a week, 12 hours a day . . . . I am glad this council member is interested in standing up for his constituents and calling him a wannabe black panther or whatever is just straight out of the Mitt Romney Republican play book. Why not address the issue instead of dismissing the man as an angry black guy?

  14. Nice red herring. I doubt you know what goes on in all those places, but even assuming conditions are bad, I don’t see how that excuses McDonalds from racing to the bottom with them.

  15. Absurd argument. Nobody is proposing $25 an hour or that the government take over any businesses. I assume you are just suffering from PTSD as a result of the recent presidential election and will come to your senses sooner or later after undertaking some therapy. It’s amazing how people like you can look around at America, which is basically RUN BY CORPORATIONS, and still be afraid that we’re headed to “socialism”, which you wouldn’t understand what it is anyway.

  16. Minimum wage is a farce? How so? Where did this $100 an hour come from? Is that really what you believe would happen through collective bargaining? Fast food workers getting $100 an hour? By the way, this isn’t a debate about the minimum wage so why do you raise it? These people apparently make minimum wage or slightly higher, so that isn’t the issue. Try to stick to the actual issue instead of confusing the debate with red herrings. Thanks.

  17. Thanks for sharing your ideas on this Mitt. Nobody is trying to dictate anything here as far as I am concerned. The workers just want to avail themselves of their right under the law to bargain collectively and presumably they expect the employer to bargain in good faith. Isn’t that all this is about?

  18. Do the Jerk Chicken and Roti shops pull in the millions in profits that Mickey Ds does while still paying its employees so little that they have to rely on social safety nets that my tax dollars pay for? If that’s the case then yeah. But I doubt it.

  19. Michael,
    You’re showing that you know nothing about the history of Hostess. The business has been under pressure for years due to the same old problems — the competition between union demands and the cost of modernizing the facilities, which always reduces the number of employees needed for low-skill jobs.

    The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy twice. Two trips through restructuring was not enough to get the balance sheet aligned with revenue. The latest episode of striking left the company not choice but to switch the filing to a Chapter 7 Liquidation. Throwing in the towel, and selling the company for parts, just like a local tag sale.

    But buyers will emerge for the part. A major breadmaker — Bimbo, from Mexico — is one buyer that will probably get a piece of Hostess.

    What’s stopping the employees from banding together, seeking financing and trying to run it themselves? They believe Hostess was mismanaged. That means they think they know what needs doing.

    As far as the Private Equity Investors in Hostess go, they lost money. Their only hope to recoup some of their losses by selling the parts.

  20. jaguar,
    Instead of ranting, why not offer your magic number for the wages and benefits McDonald’s should offer its front-line employees? How about that?

    You should also check around to see if anyone’s offering higher wages than McD’s. And if the answer’s yes, then ask how and why it’s possible.

    Think back on that stalwart employer offering Fair Wages — Vox Pop — and ask yourself what it takes to keep a business going in this city.

    McD franchises generally provide a good living for the franchise owner, but some sites are failures. Some McD’s do close. And the mayor like McD’s about as much as he likes cigarettes. Maybe NYC can lay a heavy tax on burgers that’s used to supplement the worker’s wages.

    After all, it’s done with cigarettes. Of course the wages paid by tobacco taxes are the wages of politicians.

    Or maybe Brooklyn can act more like the Bronx, which refused to permit Related Companies convert the Bronx Armory into retail space unless all the tenants agreed to pay “living wages”, which has resulted in the armory remaining empty for the last decade, at least, a status the created NO jobs and NO wages.

    Like Hostess, that is now being sold for parts, like an old junked car. The parts have value. But the former employees won’t reap it.

  21. So, what goes on in those places? Everyone getting well paid? Benefits? Helathcare? Retirement? What?

    McD’s offers a wage and people either take it or they don’t. A restaurant, whether it’s an international chain or a mom-and-pop, is not a social services agency.

  22. jaguar,

    Yeah, workers have rights, and so do employers. As far as wage negotiations go, unless you’re bringing something to the party that makes you special, there’s no negotiation.

    Low-skill and no-skill labor, well, often enough, the employer learns how to eliminate it altogether. Like pumping gas.

    A couple of generations of high school kids had jobs pumping gas. But their real job was collecting the money from the customers. Once it was possible to make the customer pay at the pump with a credit card, the gas jockeys disappeared and customers were told to pump their own gas.

    Some food places are trying similar stuff. You make your own sandwich. You fill your own cup of yogurt at 16 Handles. You pick what you want off the salad bars at Korean delis. There’s always an effort to cut down the number of excess employees.

    Maybe McD’s will try something like this. Or a competitor. That’s what happens when the cost of low-skill labor moves above the point when a new strategy or technology can replace the workers.

  23. wow. seriously, WHY should a mc donalds employee earn more than minimum wage? because they are x years old? because they have x number of children? so what.

    what special skill set is involved? how have these employees demonstrated to their employer that they are worthy of any sort of labor investment? by having no unique marketable skills other than speaking and breathing? by refraining from using their phone for more than a few minutes while working?

    get real. if you want more pay, invest in yourself. if you aspire to the lowest common denominator, realize that you are the lowest common denominator

  24. wow jaguar you are an idiot.

    since you believe all this rabble you spout, why don’t you just give all these poor folks YOUR money.

    you are right, wow: i cannot believe i didn’t see this before now. SOMEONE obviously needs to give these poor people more money…

    but is it going to be you? will you give back income or lessen your standard of living to help out your fellow man (who it seems you are stating is ENTITLED to a comfortable lifestyle (because hey, man, this is america)), and maybe donate a portion of your salary to a worthy foundation or charity that attempts to develop these success skills in otherwise lacking communities? or, are you just going to talk a bunch of bullshit on the internet?

    judging by your comments, i’m sure you have worked hard at some wage-slave type endeavor for years if not decades to distinguish yourself and become of note and merit; constantly striving for self improvement and for excellence.

    and hey – you are right. everyone should be able to live a life of luxury and choices, but not have to do anything to earn that lifestyle.

    i mean, if material success cost something they would call it something else, right?

  25. Wow, this really bringinthe trolls outta the woodwork (hamburger helper?)
    No, but Sealy, no ones breaking any laws here, why’s this light such a match under your alls tukkis?

  26. How I would feel depends on how much I’m paying them in the first place. If I’m paying them a fair wage, I’d think, “Wow, this is unreasonable and unfair.” If I’m paying them starvation wages, I’d think, “Crap, now I’m busted”…unless of course I’m self-deceived, in which case I might still think “Wow, this is unreasonable and unfair”.

  27. Michael,
    Hostess had annual revenue of almost $3 BILLION. You can argue that management was overpaid, but there’s no basis for arguing that salaries and bonuses paid to top managers pushed the company into bankruptcy.

    As a group, management’s entire pay was almost nothing compared with the cost of union labor.– which was what almost all of the 18,500 employees were — union members.

  28. Only 1/5 of their workers were in the union that went on strike, and those workers pay dropped from 40k in the ’90s to 32k in the ’00s. Hostess wanted them to work for 25k, in which case, like most reasonable people, they said that’s not worth it to them, but not before, again, like most reasonable people, fighting to keep what they had.

  29. Michael,

    A company that employs Teamsters to deliver bakery products is out of business when its bakers strike.

    The Teamsters had already approved the contract, but the bakers refused to ratify it. And they didn’t seem to care that their action was going to cost 18,500 people their jobs.

    You seem unable to understand that Hostess was losing money — in bankruptcy and unable to meet all its obligations because the company’s Costs Exceeded its Revenue.

    Even if the management had been paid ZERO, the company would have been running in the red and filing for bankruptcy.

    But frankly, since you believe the company was mismanaged, then you’d have to agree that better management might have saved it.

    How much do you think better management would have cost? Would it have been worth a few million more in management paychecks if a different management team could have boosted sales and retained union pay at those past high levels?

    Meanwhile, Hostess management wanted the bakers to work for an amount the company could actually pay.

    It seems you don’t understand that when companies borrow money from banks or receive funding from investors the companies have to maintain certain performance standards. You probably don’t know about debt covenants, events of default and contingencies. If companies miss and can’t quickly get back on track, they have no choice but to file for bankruptcy protection.

    In this case, things were so bad that management had to switch from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which aims to restructure a company and get it back into shape, to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is a liquidation.

    That’s when all hope for the existing operations is lost. Nobody wants this, but it’s what must be done when a company is no longer a viable operation.

    Twinkies and Wonder Bread will return. Along with Ho-Hos and most of the other Hostess brands. But a new team will be baking the stuff.

    The workers made their choice. They went for no pay and no job. They didn’t fight for what they had. They weren’t reasonable. They were foolish. They forced the business into financial suicide. They gained nothing.

    However, given the way things work with shutting plants and so forth, the workers will get a high percentage of their normal pay for the next year or so.

  30. Do jerk chicken and roti shops pay dividends to their stockholders? Taxes? McD’s pays huge taxes and offers a generous dividend, and if you’re in a pension plan or own a mutual fund, it’s likely McD’s stock is in it, helping to support millions of people.

    The jerk chicken and roti shops don’t hold a candle to McD’s when it comes to generating taxes, paychecks and cash.

    Is it your desire to see McD’s become less successful? Employ fewer people. Pay less in taxes? Generate less cash for the stockholders?

  31. So, conversely McDonalds is a huge corporation whose taxes are a
    cornerstone of the American Economy, but letting a dozen locations unionize would topple them if they made more then min. wage? And btw, $15 an hour? don’t think any of these cats are expecting to get that. it’s called negotiating. An extra $5 an hour? Heavens to mergatroide!

    “_if_ you’re in a pension plan or own a mutual fund, it’s likely McD’s stock is in it” Yeah. That just happened.

    “Is it your desire to see McD’s become less successful? Employ fewer people. Pay less in taxes? Generate less cash for the stockholders?” I actually don’t appreciate the aspersion that I’m trying to destroy the US economy. I can debate in good faith w/ out stooping to that level, thank you very much.

  32. Kind of done w/ this on-line pissing contest, Hamburger Helper. You know my face and name, feel free to chat me up if you see me round the neighborhood. It’s an important topic, but we all got lives outside of all this.

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