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Durham McDonald's workers were joined by a presidential candidate for a protest

Julián  Castro Marching

Julián Castro marching along with striking McDonalds workers in Durham

Rain began to fall as a large, red-clad group stopped under the golden arches of the McDonald’s on Morgan Street in Durham. With encouragement from the crowd Lois Jones, a former McDonald’s employee, stepped up to the microphone.

Jones, who worked at the very McDonald’s she stood in front of for over two years, described the sexual harassment she faced when she switched to another restaurant location. When she complained to management, she said, no action was taken.

“When I spoke about it no one did nothing,” said Jones. “They swept it under the table, called me a liar. After that my hours got cut. After that they started playing with my time and my paycheck.”

McDonald’s employees and other low-wage workers took to the streets of Durham alongside presidential candidate Julian Castro to demand better pay, better working conditions, the right to unionize and the enforcement of a no-tolerance sexual harassment policy on Thursday, May 23. 

Protesters led chants of “Put some respect on my check” while carrying a large puppet version of McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald. The group called for the minimum wage to be raised to $15. 

Jamese Cook, a 19-year-old cashier at McDonald's and Durham resident, said that she can’t afford to live on her own while only making $8 per hour. Because she helps her mom, whom she lives with, to pay the rent, she can’t save much money for the future. 

She also said she has experienced inappropriate behavior at work.

“I’ve had my number stolen off the employee contact list and they texted me, asking if they could come to my house,” Cook said. 

Cook said her manager ignored her complaints about the behavior. 

Around 10 a.m. Castro got in front of the crowd.

Castro, who served as the Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Obama, looked around at the Durham skyline.

“When I drove in here one of the first things I noticed, because I used to be secretary of housing, was how many beautiful new construction projects there are going up around Durham,” Castro said. “So many of them are luxury condos and apartments. We can’t afford them. We can’t afford them because so many places like McDonald's are paying less than $8 an hour to their workers.”

The Durham protest is one of several across the country as McDonald’s held its annual shareholder meeting in Dallas. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also joined the nation-wide strike, video calling into the Dallas protest. 

The strikes also come on the heels of 23 complaints of harassment and retaliation filed against the company, according to Time's Up Now. 

While the strike was national, for fast-food employees it felt particularly close to home. 

Jones said she doesn’t want any other worker to go through what she experienced.

“Sexual harassment should not be tolerated,” Jones said. “So what McDonald's needs to do is sit down and talk to us. Let us let them know what’s really going on in these stores.”

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