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Fast-food workers, activists protest for ‘supersized’ wages

fastfoodprotest_3
JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
About 50 fast-food workers rallied Thursday at the Burger King on Wilkinson Boulevard, demanding a higher minimum wage.

About 50 fast-food workers and activists protested Thursday in the drizzle outside a Burger King on Wilkinson Boulevard, demanding $15-an-hour wages and, they said, more respect.

The hourlong demonstration was one of 100 such protests planned across the nation Thursday. They’re supported by labor groups, including the Service Employees International Union, and locally by Action NC, which advocates for immigration, health care and education reform. The protesters are also asking for the right to unionize without retaliation.

“I’m out here for workers’ rights,” said Tremaine Tribble, who said he works at a Taco Bell on South Boulevard. Tribble, 40, said it’s difficult for him to provide for his several children on his salary, which covers his rent and transportation to and from work. Anything else – shoes, clothing, school supplies – is largely out of reach, Tribble said.

“So many people are afraid to speak up,” he said, because they fear for their jobs. “We need to be able to take care of our children.”

Stephanie Morrison, 46, said she works at a Burger King on North Tryon Street.

“I’m making $7.35 an hour,” she said, 10 cents above the state’s minimum wage. She also complained that her hours had been reduced.

Along with other workers, Tribble and Morrison chanted, “No more burgers, no more fries, make our wages supersized.”

Behind them, dozens of cars cycled through the Burger King’s drive-thru, while drivers sped by on Wilkinson. Many honked their horns in support.

Around the country, protests were held in major cities, including Atlanta, Detroit and New York City.

The loose coalition of labor groups has been carrying on its campaign for higher wages and the right to unionize since fast-food workers first protested in New York last year. The fast-food industry opposes their campaign and has said higher wages would lead to higher prices and job cuts. Fast-food companies compete aggressively against each other on price, both with their overall prices and programs such as McDonald’s Dollar Menu.

The National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, said most of those protesting were union workers and that “relatively few” workers have participated in past actions. It called the demonstrations a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”

McDonald’s said in a statement that it’s “committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed.” The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said it offers employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits.

President Barack Obama has said he supports raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

The International Franchise Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a study Thursday that said raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as protesters want, or even to $9 an hour, would hurt workers. The groups said companies would have to cut back on entry-level hiring and on training, and automate more parts of their businesses to avoid hiring more employees.

“Proponents of mandated living wages set at $15 an hour ignore the fact that this policy will jeopardize opportunities for entry-level workers to gain the skills they need to move up the employment ladder,” said IFA President Steve Caldeira, in a statement. “Such a drastic move will hurt the very people the policy was originally intended to help.” The Associated Press contributed

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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