Fast food workers in New York City are pushing towards unionization. 

After winning a 15 dollar minimum wage, workers at Chipotle and McDonald’s restaurants are organizing with SEIU local 32BJ have begun forming committees and signing union cards indicating their commitment to the union effort. 

“The demand of the Fight for $15 has always been $15 and a union,” 32BJ President Kyle Bragg said. “Winning the minimum wage increase was just the beginning.” 

This second goal has been largely unsuccessful within the fast-food sector, but that could soon change. 

“Fast-food companies like McDonald’s are operating in our communities,” said Jeremy Espinal, 20, a third year Hunter College Student. “And we are giving them our blood, sweat and tears. Our friends and families spend hard-earned money and eat here. I don’t think it is too much to ask that the jobs here be good jobs.”

Espinal works at a Greenwich Village Chipotle, and says his hours were slashed by half when his managers discovered his involvement in the unionization effort. 

“The managers try to dehumanize you and try to beat you down mentally as much as they can so they can overwork you and make you feel you’re never doing enough,” Espinal said.

Unionization in fast food has been stalled since 32BJ launched an aggressive effort to unionize more than 80,000 fast food workers in New York City across over 6,000 restaurants. Organizers blame retaliatory measures like those Espinal faced. 

Most fast food restaurants are owned by different franchise owners, which has also been a road block for union activists. The man power needed to launch separate union drives in each franchise in the city is a daunting task, but 32BJ is trying to unite workers around the city around a common cause. 

The 40 Chipotle restaurants where 32BJ has focused its efforts are corporate owned and operated stores, which makes bargaining simpler and allows workers to put pressure on an image conscious national brand. 

Earlier this year, Chipotle workers also filed complaints with the city, prompting the city to file a lawsuit against Chipotle, seeking more than $1m in restitution for violating its Fair Workweek Law.

“We haven’t assigned any one strategy to get a union,” Bragg said. “The goal is to get the employer to the table and bargain in good faith.”

Bragg hopes that if a successful union vote in restaurants owned by the parent company, it could be a foot in the door they need to expand the effort to franchises around the city and the country.
“Success is contagious,” Bragg said. “These companies are treating hard working New Yorkers as if they are disposable, fast-food workers deserve dignity, job security and a voice in the workplace.”

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