How This Fast Food Worker Is Fighting for a Fairer Work Week

A pizza maker struggling to get by joins an effort by the New York City Council to pass laws that create more stable shifts for people in her profession.

This story is part of 1 Minute Meal, a documentary series that uses food to reveal the communities, legacies, dreams, realities and unseen forces that shape life in New York City.

As much as we love stories about mom-and-pop restaurants, focusing exclusively on this slice of the food world would ignore the huge proportion of the U.S. economy invested in conglomerates. Fast food, in particular, is a sector of the hospitality industry that continues to play a major role in the lives of most Americans—not only as a purveyor of meals, but also as one of the country’s largest employers.

While the well-to-do can set aside fast food as a dietary choice that they simply don’t prefer, wage earners who depend on the fast food industry for jobs have a very different relationship to happy meals. Shantel Walker, a lifelong New Yorker who has filled pretty much every service job in the book, knows this relationship well, and has become a community organizer in hopes of changing it for good.

Currently a pizza maker at Papa John’s, Walker joined the Fair Workweek Initiative—a movement by fast food and retail workers to enact local laws that guarantee stable and predictable working schedules. Among other regulations, fair work week laws recently passed by New York City Council forbid shift workers like Shantel from being assigned to close up shop late at night and open the very next morning, and mandate that they receive their assignments two weeks in advance.

While the practical impact of these laws won’t be fully seen until after they go into effect in November 2017, Walker is energized by the victory and hopeful for a healthier working life. Most of all, she hopes for a change in the way that people perceive fast food workers—from robotic, unskilled, interchangeable cogs to economically aware community members who are working in fast food service for the long haul, and would like to be treated as professionals.

Through September 1, Edible Manhattan is collaborating with Edible Brooklyn, Edible Bronx, Edible Queens, and the Staten Island Advance to debut 30 new videos about food and life in New York. Subscribe to 1 Minute Meal to see food films from all five boroughs.

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James Boo is a multimedia journalist based in Brooklyn. As Editor-in-Chief of Real Cheap Eats, an independent filmmaker, and a freelance food writer, James has devoted his storytelling career to the intersection of food and culture. You can see more episodes of this web series at oneminutemealfilms.com.