"These jobs have extremely high turnover, so by the time you get around to organizing folks, they're not on the job anymore," said Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the City University of New York.
Workers stood outside a McDonald's restaurant on the east side of Manhattan early Thursday chanting: "Hey, hey, what do you say. We demand fair pay," as 14 of 17 workers at the restaurant's morning shift went on strike, The New York Times reported.
"We don't get paid for what we do. It really is living in poverty," said Raymond Lopez, who earns $8.75 per hour after working for two years at the restaurant.
"We can't pay rent, pay bills,'' said Hector Henningham, a manager, who said he earns $8 per hour, having worked at the restaurant for eight years.
"It's a fairly high-turnover position, so there's never been a successful union effort," said Tim McIntyre, a spokesman for Domino's Pizza. "People who are doing this part time, seasonally or as they work their way through college don't find much interest in membership."
Community and civil rights groups and a labor union have recently made a massive effort to organize fast-food workers in what some call the largest push ever to unionize the industry.
New York, a union-friendly city, is on their side the Times said.
"The fast-food industry employs tens of thousands of workers in New York and pays them poverty wages. A lot of them can't afford to get by. A lot have to rely on public assistance, and taxpayers are often footing the bill because these companies are not paying a living wage," said Jonathan Westin, organizing director at New York Communities for Change, which is helping organize a union campaign effort called Fast Food Forward.
The New York State Labor Department said the median wage for fast-food workers was $9 per hour, which comes to about $18,500 per year.
McDonald's issued a statement saying it treats its employees well and that is reflected in the service at restaurants.
"McDonald's values our employees and has consistently remained committed to them, so in turn they can provide quality service to our customers," the company said.