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The Daily Tar Heel

Fast food strikers call for higher wages

RALEIGH — The Rev. William Barber marched down the sidewalk of Tarboro Street in Raleigh with a cane in his right hand, bellowing “Worker’s rights!” at about 100 fast food workers from across the state who chanted back, “We can’t survive off $7.25!” under the sweltering afternoon sun.

“It’s time-out for a colonel that’s dead to be getting more respect than the living, it’s time-out for a clown like Ronald (McDonald) to get more respect than workers that sell the hamburgers,” Barber, president of N.C. NAACP, said in his keynote speech. “It’s time-out for a phony king named Burger to be treated better than workers that go work every day.”

The strike is a part of a nationwide movement called “Low Pay is Not OK,” in which thousands of fast food workers agreed to go on strike Thursday in a bid to raise their hourly wage to $15, obtain workers’ benefits and unionize the fast food industry. Workers in about 60reporter’s notes cities across the nation participated.

In North Carolina, the strikers organized meetings in Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh.

Many fast food workers are living in poverty because they receive low wages despite their hard work, Barber said.

“I’m broke,” said Julio Wilson, 34, who attended the strike. Wilson works 20 to 22 hours a week as an assistant manager at Little Caesars on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh. He earns $9 an hour, walks a mile and a half to work every day and helps support his 5-year-old daughter.

“She just started school and needs shoes, needs clothes, but I have bills, I need to live and it’s hard,” he said. “I’m tired when I get home every day.”

Increasing wages would also increase the amount of circulating spending money in the economy, Barber said, as current low-wage earners would eventually be able to spend more, which would create jobs.

Barber called on U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., to act in the U.S. Congress to combat low wages.

But fast food restaurants and trade groups refuted the workers’ protests.

McDonald’s said in a statement that the striking workers’ claims did not accurately depict what it’s like to work at the restaurant.

The statement went on to say that the corporation aimed to provide competitive pay and benefits and only paid 10 percent of its workers’ minimum wage. It also said that workers on strike will not lose their jobs.

A Burger King statement said most of its restaurants are independent franchises and the corporation does not make employment-related decisions.

A Wendy’s spokesman said in an email the restaurant allows people to enter the workplace at a starting wage, gain skills and then either advance within the company or move on.

Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, also said in a statement that only 5 percent of U.S. restaurant employees earn minimum wage, and most of them are teens working part time.

Wilson said he hopes everyone will listen to the workers’ message — the fast food industry CEOs, the federal government and state legislators.

“The next step is to see where this is going to lead us, and stand up again when the time comes,” Wilson said.

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