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Fast-Food Workers Demonstrate To Raise The Federal Minimum Wage

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Cole del Charco
Advocates for what they consider a living wage demonstrated in Durham on the anniversary of the last time the federal minimum wage was raised.

A scene at McDonald's on Apex Highway was replicated in at least ten cities across the country this week — people wearing red shirts yelled into bullhorns, raised signs, and chanted.

"What do we want? $15! When do we want it? Now."

The day-long strike Tuesday was to mark the 12th year to the day since Congress last raised the federal minimum wage, back in 2009.

The demonstrations come as restaurants are having a hard time finding workers. As the group circled the drive-thru in Apex, N.C., they passed a sign that advertised "Hiring on the Spot" at this McDonald's every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Advocates for a $15-dollar minimum wage are quick to say the so-called worker shortage could be easily solved.

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Cole del Charco
A sign advertising "Hiring on the spot" three days a week at the McDonald's in Durham where advocates for a $15 minimum wage demonstrated.

"It’s nothing else to say, pay us and we’ll come to work," said Eric Winston, a life-long Durham resident. "You don’t pay us we don’t work, period.”

Winston was striking from the Blue Note Grill restaurant in downtown Durham.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. More than half of Americans who earn at or below minimum wage live in the South.

A woman who said she goes by Mamma Cookie, said she’s worked in fast-food for decades, all over Durham.

"And have never made $15-dollars an hour — as a manager I’ve never made $15-dollars an hour," she said.

Many who demonstrated said they think workers are going to have to strike across the country to get higher pay.

Nah'Shon Blount, a 21-year-old who works at the Biscuitville on Roxboro Street in Durham, said he lives with his family, and helps pay the bills — that’s why he decided to strike for higher pay.

The raise from his current $10 would mean a lot to him, he says.

“I could go to college, I could pay for my sister’s college, I could actually pay the bills and probably get my own apartment,” Blount said.

Organized by advocacy groups like the Poor People's Campaign and NC Raise Up, speakers emphasized the need for collective action to make sure they would be recognized and have a seat at the table to negotiate their own salaries.

Reverend William Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, joined the protest in Durham. The longtime civil rights advocate invoked a message of Martin Luther King Jr. saying there’s always been a connection between economic rights and voting rights.

North Carolina workers also demonstrated in Charlotte and Marion on Tuesday as part of the nationwide campaign.

Cole del Charco is WUNC’s morning reporter. He’s worked for WUNC since 2019.
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