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Why fast-food workers struggle to unionize

A walk-out by workers at several fast-food chains in New York marks latest effort to organize an industry with high worker turnover.

Scores of workers at McDonald's, Wendy’s and other fast food restaurants in New York City went on strike today, demanding more pay and the right to unionize.

Raymond Lopez earns $8.75 an hour as a shift manager at a McDonald's in midtown Manhattan. He’s one of the higher paid employees, but he says he has to work more than two jobs to get by. Early this morning, he and some coworkers started a day of protests.

“We’re not asking to be millionaires. Just a reasonable wage so we don’t have to rely on food stamps or government help," Lopez says.

The protesters are asking for $15 an hour, about double what most fast food workers make in the city. And, they want to unionize. 

“When Walmart workers went on strike, workers saw they could take on management. They could take on multibillion dollar companies," says Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change, which helped organize today’s action.

Past efforts to unionize haven’t gone far. One problem is that fast-food workers don’t stay long in their jobs. Another is that many of these restaurants are owned by franchisees, not the big name chains themselves.

This movement is trying to organize like construction workers who go from job to job. 

“They’re organizing a fast food workers organization rather than a company by company organization," says Kate Bronfenbrenner, a labor expert at Cornell University.

Organizers say just a few hundred fast food workers walked out today, a fraction of the workforce. But Lopez, the shift manager, sees this as a beginning.

"This is obviously day one, and the whole purpose of today is to be heard and make a statement," Lopez says.

A McDonald's spokesperson said the company has an open dialogue with employees and encourages them to express any concerns they have.

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