Democratic presidential candidates joined McDonald’s fast-food workers and supporters yesterday to push the corporation to unionize its employees and pay them $15 dollars an hour. Julián Castro, a Democratic presidential hopeful and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, marched and rallied with low-wage workers in downtown Durham.
A few sprinkles of rain fell as fast food workers and their families and friends lined up behind a huge banner that read, “McDonald’s, We Need to Talk.” The weather didn’t stop the crowd of more than 100 people from moving forward and chanting, "Fight for 15! Fight for 15!"
They walked from Durham Central Park, to the corner of Morgan Street and Rigsbee Avenue, where there is a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant. Julián Castro marched with the crowd.
“You know, y’all have a beautiful community here," said Castro, smiling, wearing a white dress shirt with his sleeves rolled up.
But Castro said everyone is not prospering in this growing southern city.
“When I drove in here, one of the first things I noticed, because I used to be the Secretary of Housing, was how many beautiful, new construction projects [are] going up around Durham. Y’all see these?" said Castro. "So many of them are luxury condos and apartments. You can’t afford them! You can’t afford them!”
Castro said they can’t afford this housing because McDonald’s pays its workers $8 dollars an hour, far less than a living wage. And he said his campaign and others are not patronizing McDonald’s until they pay workers $15 an hour.
Eshawney Gaston, is a former McDonald’s employee who now works at Waffle House. She said the reason they want change at McDonald’s is because the company sets the industry standard.
“So today, we’re standing with McDonald’s workers, fast-food workers and all low wage workers, and I believe that we will win!”
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, told the crowd, fast-food workers need a seat at the table and they deserve to be paid.
"We want $15 an hour for the 64 million workers who have been assigned to poverty in this country," said Henry.
Henry also applauded the women who filed gender-based and sexual harassment lawsuits against McDonald's earlier this week. "We aren't stopping until there is justice and dignity for all women and men inside of McDonald's and all fast food industry restaurants all across this country," she said.
Down the hill from McDonald’s, Kateshia Burns stopped to show me the sign she made. She works at Happy and Hale restaurant in Durham and used to work at Whole Foods. Burns says, she hardly knows anyone who makes $15 an hour.
“It says, ‘A Generational Curse in My Purse.” And I am a black female, or African American as they call us. But we are indigenous to the land and they need to pay us, this is a generational cycle and it needs to be broken," said Burns. "Point blank, plain and simple, it needs to be broken.”
McDonald’s has said it will not lobby against minimum wage hikes at the state and federal level. Thursday’s demonstrations were also a big push to unionize workers at McDonald’s, which organizers and Democrats say will go a long way in increasing pay and addressing issues like sexual harassment on the job.