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Councilwoman: Low Fast Food Wages Hurt Single Parents

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A push has been launched in New York City to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers and allow for unions in the industry.

As WCBS 880's Paul Murnane reported Saturday morning, critics said a higher minimum wage can only reduce the number of jobs. But in calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage for fast food workers, City Councilwoman and Public Advocate candidate Letitia James (D-35th) said a raise would directly benefit the typical employee in such work – single parents.

Councilwoman: Low Fast Food Wages Hurt Single Parents

"And so we really need to change the economy," she said. "It's dragging down our economy. It's having a major impact on small businesses and on families in the city of New York, which is why we are witnessing the feminization of poverty in our city."

James, along with City Council Speaker and Democratic mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, participated this past Thursday in a protest march in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday. Some of the several hundred demonstrators also streamed into the McDonald's across from the Empire State Building.

Most entry-level fast food workers make the federal minimum wage, which is just over $7 an hour, amounting to about $15,000 a year. Workers are demanding more than double -- $15 hour an hour at around $31,000 a year.

Fast food is a $200 billion a year industry, but many workers say they're left practically starving.

"You have CEOs that are tripling their pay and you have the workers who make the money for these corporations living in poverty," one striker said.

"It's not only me, it's hundreds and thousands of people across the city that is not surviving on minimum wage. It's really not working," striker and KFC worker Shanida Simon said.

"We are having families we are trying to support, so it's important for us to stick together to get change," striker Kaye Smith said.

Thursday's strike marks the largest coordinated effort ever by fast food workers; walk-outs were planned in at least 50 cities across the country.

Major chains like McDonald's and Burger King say higher wages could mean higher prices on the menu.

In a statement, Burger King said in part, "As a corporation, we respect the rights of all workers; however, Burger King Corp. does not make hiring, firing or other employment-related decisions for our franchisees."

McDonald's released a statement, reading in part, "McDonald's aims to offer competitive pay and benefits to our employees. Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful careers."

Meanwhile Saturday, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio weighed in on the issue, accusing Quinn of failing to support living wage and paid sick leave legislation that he said could have helped fast food workers.

De Blasio pointed to a New York Daily News report that claimed Quinn received $14,850 from the owners of Reise Restaurants a day before the rally for fast food workers. Reise has been sued for wage theft, employment discrimination, and workplace safety violations, de Blasio claimed.

"One of the major reasons we are living a Tale of Two Cities after twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg is because the wealthy elite have had their way, while low and middle-income workers struggle just to keep their head above water," de Blasio said in a news release. "The fact is Christine Quinn has spent her time as City Council Speaker working for her donors in big business while blocking and watering down legislation that would improve the lives of low wage workers."

There are more than 50,000 fast food workers in New York City alone.

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