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Durham fast-food workers continue fight for living wage
 
Published Thursday, July 22, 2021
by Bonitta Best

Durham fast-food, restaurant and grocery store workers staged their latest strike for a living wage and better benefits Tuesday in front of the McDonald’s on Apex Highway. Durham was joined nationally by workers in 15 cities, including Charlotte.

It’s been 12 years since the last federal minimum wage increased to the current $7.25 an hour. While wages in many retail jobs across the country have increased due to a worker shortage, employee wages in the South have lagged due to preemption laws that block local governments from boosting pay and the U.S. Senate’s failure to act on a $15 an hour minimum.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed the state's minimum wage preemption law in 2016 as part of the controversial "bathroom bill." Though the portion of that law that enshrined discrimination against transgender people has been overturned, the minimum wage preemption provision is still in place today.

"Every year, without a raise, things get worse for workers.  Poverty goes up. People’s mental health gets worse, because making poverty wages can really wear you down mentally,” said Precious Cole, a Durham Wendy's worker. "We need Congress to pass $15 for the whole country because here in the South, the states aren’t going to do it on their own."

Some fast-food employees are starting to take matters into their own hands. Recently, employees at a Burger King walked off the job. Before leaving they changed the marquee outside the store to “WE ALL QUIT.”

Employees who are making a living wage stood in unison with others still in the fight. "I’m out here to demand $15 an hour for every worker in the country. After decades of low paying jobs, I am finally making a living wage. I have two kids, so making $15 an hour is an absolute necessity to support them," said Nathan Ruggles, an Amazon driver. "But it was a fight to get Amazon to pay $15 in the first place. If we wait for all these companies to pay a living wage out of the goodness of their hearts, we will wait forever. Congress must pass a $15 federal minimum wage."

Companies like Costco, Starbucks and Target have raised employee wages over the years. However, workers with the Fight for $15 have particular disdain for fast-food companies like McDonald’s. As reported earlier in the year, the burger giant announced that it earned almost $5 billion in 2020 and distributed $4 billion of that to its shareholders, while low-level employees got zero.

"I stand with workers who are on strike for a $15 federal minimum wage, because they are fighting for all of America,” said the Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “There’s no such thing as racial equity when you don’t address the issue of economic justice. We cannot address racial equity if we do not address the minimum wage of $15."

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