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One wage hike, hold the excuses
Fast food workers push for better pay
 
Published Thursday, December 5, 2013 3:43 pm
by Herbert L. White

Lindsey Ware’s tired of working for peanuts in fast food.

 

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PHOTO/PAUL WILLIAMS III
Lindsey Ware (right) leads protests at the Burger King on Wilkinson Boulevard on Dec. 5. Fast food workers in 100 U.S. cities demanded an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Fifty-four percent of N.C. fast food workers also receive some form of public assistance, with a third on food stamps, according to a study by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center.

Ware, who works at Taco Bell on South Boulevard, joined fellow fast food workers and activists at a Burger King on Wilkinson Boulevard Thursday to demand a living wage to chants of “We can’t survive on $7.25,” the federal standard. In North Carolina, 54 percent of fast food workers receive some form of public assistance, with one-third on food stamps, according to a study by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center. The average N.C. fast food worker earns $8.56 an hour, 50 cents less than the national average.


“We want North Carolina to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour,” Ware said. “The people I work with can’t feed their families, I can’t afford my (college) tuition, but I go to work every day. I did what society told me to do. I went to college, I got a job and I’m still struggling. It’s not fair.”


The restaurant industry cites the lingering effects of recession and implementation of federal health insurance mandates make a wage hike risky for businesses, and ultimately, the economy.


“In light of current economic conditions and coming on top of the unprecedented uncertainty and costs that the 2010 health care law will impose on employers, a starting-wage increase will reduce hiring, weaken business growth and reduce opportunities for job seekers and employees at the margin of the workforce,” said National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney said earlier this month.


President Barack Obama, who suggested a $9 minimum wage in his February State of the Union address, argues improved pay for lower-wage workers is a step toward eliminating widening income disparities.


“We know that there are airport workers, fast-food workers, nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty,” he said on Wednesday. “That’s why it’s well past the time to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.”


There’s growing support for better pay, according to a Gallup poll that revealed more than three-quarters of Americans support a minimum wage increase. State and local governments are becoming more proactive as well, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland and neighboring Washington, D.C. approving hikes. Last month, New Jersey voters approved an initiative to boost the minimum wage to $8.25 and a handful of other states are considering similar referendums in 2014.


“We see momentum gathering and a consensus emerging around the idea that we need to increase the federal minimum wage, to give these workers and millions like them a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said. “You can’t open the newspaper or check the Internet without seeing stories about workers struggling to get by and making the case for higher pay.”


Ware said low-income workers like herself will continue to make their case to corporations and lawmakers.


“The Constitution said we should be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor,” she said. “When I get my check, it’s already spent, so my fruit’s spoiled.”

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