August 29, 2013
This morning over thirty fast food workers and supporters gathered outside a Taco Bell on South Boulevard in Charlotte as part of a collaborative, national effort to advocate for higher wages and the right to organize without intimidation. The activity resulted in the Taco Bell closing for the duration of the strike.
National organizers estimated strikes would be held in approximately fifty cities, but over sixty have participated so far, and the day isn’t yet over. Four communities in North Carolina—Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro, held strikes and many of the workers and supporters then carpooled to the statewide demonstration in Raleigh this afternoon. It began at Martin Street Baptist Church with the President of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Forward Together movement, Reverend Doctor William Barber II, speaking at 3:30 PM, followed by a march.
Participation in the strikes could come at a high cost but Debbie Walley, a manager at a local fast food restaurant, says, “Whatever is going to happen, is going to happen. I would rather stand up than just wallow.” Ms. Walley is aware that NC is a “right to work” state and that she may lose her job for organizing. “I’m out here because our pay is too low. It’s scary to think I might not have a job after this with the economy the way it is but I feel like I have to take a stand. I tried to make a change from within for seven years and nothing’s really changed. Most of us aren’t making much more than when we started and the cost of living is going up. We see prices increase, but nothing seems to be coming down to us.”
Federal law prohibits employers from firing, discriminating, or retaliating against workers for striking. Before the strike began, volunteers delivered notices with this information, prepared by the Carolina Workers Organizing Committee, with the hope of providing some protection against retaliation.
Supporter and independent/unaffiliated candidate for Charlotte City Council-District Four, Michael Zytkow, stated that he came out because “these workers put themselves on the line to be here and are risking repercussions for a necessary change that they deserve. I’m here to show my support for all the courageous and brave workers who are fighting for a living wage. Any one working a full time job and contributing to society should be making a living wage, and should at least have enough to cover their basic cost of living.”
That’s exactly what Ms. Walley says she wants out of her job. “If you aren’t making enough, you get a second job or a different job but very few of us have regular hours. It’s hard to go to school that way. It’s hard to get another job. We are in a take-it or leave-it situation.”
A short video discussing the movement, published August 19, 2013, can be found here. The National Employment Law Project has more about low-wage job growth in “Tracking the Recovery after the Great Recession,” and you can read more about the workers’ efforts in “A Day’s Strike to Raise Fast-Food Pay” and “Largest Fast Food Strike Ever Today: 58 Cities Will Be Affected.”
Brandy Hagler is a graduate of Charlotte School of Law and a former Civil Rights Clinic member. She is an advocate of speech rights and organizer for Legal Observers in the community.