>>Labor Day celebrates the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. But for many American workers, this one symbolic day of tribute doesn’t cut the mustard. >>Thousands of fast-food restaurant employees across the country staged walkouts last Thursday to demand the right to unionize and to earn a living wage.
Fast-food walk-outs occurred in about 60 cities as part of Thursday’s “Low Pay is Not Okay” campaign– four of which occurred in Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, and Durham. The workers called for a $15 hourly wage– almost double the $8.56 per hour average they earn now– which would amount to $31,000 a year for full-time employees. Since >>38% of women in NC struggle to make ends meet, doubling the income of one the lowest-paying jobs could mean big strides towards closing the gender gap.
Meanwhile, maintaining full-time status in the food-service industry presents a separate issue. Thirty-nine year old Willieta Dukes of Durham has worked full-time at Burger King for the past year. When the restaurant started to cut back on her hours, Dukes >>moved in with one of her children to stay afloat. She worries that Burger King will retaliate against strikers, but says “What more do I have to lose? I lost my home. There’s not much more you can take from me.”
Julio Wilson, 34, of Raleigh agrees. He works only 20 to 22 hours a week as an assistant manager at Little Caesars, >>earns only $9 an hour, walks a mile and a half to work every day, and supports his 5-year-old special-needs daughter.
As Reverend William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, >>said to a crowd of 100 protesters in Raleigh: “It’s a crime that you can work for Kentucky Fried Chicken, but can’t hardly afford the chicken that’s there. Fast-food workers are truly the working poor.”
The higher-ups in the fast-food industry have offered a scattering of excuses. Scott DeFife, a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, >>says that doubling fast-food wages would hurt job creation—especially in the face of the rising costs of ingredients. McDonald’s >>says that the striking workers’ claims do not accurately depict what it’s like to work at their restaurants. Lynn Minges, CEO of the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association, >>says that only 5% of US restaurant employees earn minimum wage, and “most of them are teens working part time.” So how do these groups explain Marcel McGirk, a cashier at a Burger King in Raleigh, who >>still earns minimum wage after nearly 11 years of service?
Willieta Dukes >>says it best: “I enjoy my work. I enjoy serving people. [Burger King and other fast-food restaurants] tell us we’re good. So why can’t they just pay us what we are worth?”