Fast food workers in Wilmington walked off the job today, as the ongoing fight for $15 an hour and union rights spreads across the country.
The workers in Wilmington rallied outside of the McDonalds on W. 4th Street. They joined strikers in 160 cities nationwide, two years after fast food workers in New York City sparked the nationwide movement for higher pay and the right to unionize.
“We’re continuing to grow, we had healthcare workers join the fight in a big way in September … we’ve had workers from other retail stores, like Dollar stores, etc. join,” said organizer Apryl Walker, with Delaware Americans for Democratic Action. “Our goal is just to continue to grow over the next period of time and get as many workers as possible involved in this fight.”
“Not doing it at all”
Ronda Frazier recently joined the fight.
“In Georgia I made $15 an hour but couldn’t find a good job when I moved here. Now I make pennies over the minimum wage,” she said.
Minimum wage in Delaware is $7.75/hour. It’s scheduled to go up to $8.25 an hour on June 1, 2015.
Frazier moved back home to Delaware to take care of her three nephews and nieces after her sister died of a heart attack. Currently, she works at Dollar Tree Deals making $7.90 an hour.
“You know, $7.90 is not quite doing it. It’s not doing it at all,” said Frazier, who struggles to pay her rent and other bills. “You unfortunately have to go to the state. And not all of us want to be on the state. We don’t, we don’t, but we have to humble ourselves, and we have to let our pride down and we have to do that.”
David Chatt is the grill man at fast food chain Wendy’s. He makes $7.75 an hour.
“I have a house and have a mortgage. I gotta borrow and everything else to pay my bills, it’s crazy,” he said. “[A higher wage] means a better life, a better place to live, better things to eat, better clothes to buy, being able to manage your bills without struggle. It’s all about getting out of the struggle.”
Chatt who’s a convicted felon believes the crime rate will plummet if fast food workers have the opportunity to make more money.
“My focus is just not on $15/hour, it’s bigger picture. I’m talking about the crime,” Chatt said. “That $15 an hour, if we get it, and we fighting to get it, it’s gonna change this whole world around.”
Power in numbers
Since the beginning, the fast food industry has maintained raising wages would result in employee layoffs, reduced hours and a push towards automation. While the fast food corporations haven’t budged, Walker said there’s power in numbers.
“I think they’re listening. I mean, I think they should be very worried about the public opinion,” Walker said. “We know that workers deserve fairness and that us, as American people, don’t deserve to have our tax dollars gutted basically subsidizing these fast food corporations.”
A UC Berkeley report released last year found that more than 50 percent of fast food workers nationwide are on public assistance.
Other critics have argued that the Fight for 15 movement is a way for labor unions, specifically the Service Employees International Union, to drum up membership. An admitted labor supporter, state Representative John Kowalko has attended all but one of the fast food walkouts in Wilmington. He said not every organized labor interest has an ulterior motive.
“Organized labor was built and embedded in doing the right things morally for the working people,” he said. “They decided to look into the interests of the very low-wage paid people and to try to organize them not for the benefit of the union, but to organize them for their own benefit, and then the fruits of that labor would be a powerful organization representing the worker who gets disregarded in this country.”
“I’m hoping that we will see change and people do realize that we’re human beings just as they are. And that we’re worth more, just like they feel like they’re worth more at their jobs as well,” Frazier said.
Low wage impact on Delawareans
Inspired by the Fight for 15 movement, Delaware’s General Assembly convened a 14-member low wage task force. The panel held its first public meeting this summer.
The group made up of state lawmakers, local community leaders and business and union organizations was tasked with looking into the impact of low wage jobs on the First State.
The panel’s recommendations will be released next month.