Florida Foodie: Fight for $15 advocate talks about pandemic’s impact on food service workers

Cristian Cardona works as shift manager at McDonald’s for $11.30 per hour

ORLANDO, Fla. – Essential workers, which includes food-service employees, have continued to work every day throughout the pandemic.

When coronavirus cases first started popping up, Cristian Cardona said he started to see his coworkers and his family start to struggle.

“And these are all problems that we faced before the pandemic. But this pandemic made them stand out in a way that I could not ignore,” Cardona said.

From there, Cardona got in contact with Fight for $15 Florida.

“Once I was connected with Fight for $15, I began participating in different strikes, training calls, advocating for Amendment 2 and advocating for worker rights. And that’s how my journey began.”

Through it all, Cardona has been working as a shift manager at a Central Florida McDonald’s earning $11.30 per hour.

“Even working full time as a manager — who has been trained, certified, has went to classes — I still don’t make enough to afford a place for myself or afford everything,” Cardona said. “The only reason I’m able to make is because I live with my parents and we all help each other.”

Cardona said McDonald’s and other companies have been allowed to take advantage of their workers.

“They only do what they’re allowed to do. If they’re allowed to pay their workers less than a living wage, they will because they can,” he said.

News 6 contacted McDonald’s following this conversation and shared Cardona’s comments with the company. It released the following statement.

“We welcome the opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue on minimum wage, including on how we make sure that, as changes are introduced, it’s done in a way that balances the needs of our people and our communities and the needs of business owners, including the nearly 2,000 small business owners who own and operate more than 95 percent of McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S.”

McDonald’s USA

Last year, workers’ rights advocacy groups, like Fight for $15, scored a big win when Floridians passed Amendment 2, which will raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026. Despite that, Cardona said there is still more to be done.

“Even if we get $15 now or five years from now, we still have to fight for worker rights. We have to fight for a union, the right to collective bargain, we have to fight for maternity leave, sick leave, PPE. There’s so many things that we have to fight for. So the fight is far from over, even if we get a living wage,” he said.

While Florida is set to get a minimum wage hike, state Sen. Jeff Brandes recently proposed legislation to create a different, lower minimum wage for prisoners in the state correctional system, workers convicted of a felony, workers under 21 and other “hard-to-hire” employees.

“I would say it is blatantly racist,” Cardona said. “I would say all workers should get paid for the same like if you do the same work, you should get paid the same.”

News 6 contacted Brandes after this conversation for reaction to Cardona’s comments. A spokesperson for the senator sent the following response:

“Thank you for reaching out to us. Senator Brandes would like to remind Mr. Cardona that 30 U.S. states currently have wage policies similar to or the same as those proposed in this resolution. Is Mr. Cardona insinuating that those policies are racist as well?”

Zachary Colletti, Legislative Assistant to State Senator Jeff Brandes

Cardona also talked about the struggles his family has faced through the pandemic and why a $15 minimum wage may still not be good enough for workers.

Please follow our hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s books, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”

Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere.

Find new episodes on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.

Use the form below to sign up for the ClickOrlando.com Florida Foodie newsletter, sent every other Wednesday.

About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.