Once again, fast food workers in Wilmington walked off their jobs to fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.
Rallying outside a Wendy’s on Concord Pike and then a McDonald’s downtown, Wilmington was just one of a hundred cities with planned walkouts across the country.
“What we’re out here to do is to stand up and voice our concerns, and our discontent really, for the fact that we work very hard at our jobs, but they’re paying us minimum wage,” said Camille Collins, who works as a cashier at the McDonald’s on West 4th Street in downtown Wilmington.
Collins earns $7.70 an hour. She has little hope of ever making more than that because she served time on a forgery conviction. She says because of her criminal record, she was told a managerial position that pays more was out of the question. As a mother of two, she describes her lack of options as stressful.
“You are forced to go with government assistance, Medicaid, foods stamps – and it’s not that that’s humiliating in any way, the issue is that you want to get ahead, or even save,” said Collins.
The median wage for fast food workers across the country sits at $8.94 an hour. The National Restaurant Association says a wage increase to $15 an hour would upend the industry, saying past minimum wage increases caused restaurant owners to raise prices, cut jobs and employee hours, and in some cases turn to automation.
But protest organizer Ezra Temko says there’s a big difference between a mom and pop restaurant and a fast food chain.
“The fast food corporations that these workers are demanding $15/hour from are hugely profitable corporations. This is a $200 billion industry,” said Temko who heads up the Delaware chapter of Americans for Democratic Action.
“My hope would be that instead of passing along the billions that they do to their shareholders and paying their CEO’s millions in dividends, and bonuses and salaries, that they would take some of that money and invest it in workers.”
The corporations and the franchisees have passed the buck as to who actually determines employee salaries. Regardless, Temko says this fight isn’t going away any time soon.
“You’ve seen this growth of this movement and I think this is going to continue until workers get their demands met and that might be $15 an hour, that might be forming a union that negotiates with these corporations.”
Minimum wage in Delaware
Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. In a speech addressing income inequality Wednesday, President Obama says he would support increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Since October, five states including New Jersey, increased the minimum wage. Delaware’s minimum wage matches the federal rate, but a bill introduced in the General Assembly this year called to increase the minimum wage to $8.25/hour over two years. That measure, however, stalled in a House committee.
Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark South, attended today’s two-part strike. He hopes Senate Bill 6 will make it out of committee when the legislature reconvenes next month and come up for a vote.
“I don’t say that [fast food corporations] shouldn’t make a profit, I don’t say that they shouldn’t make a large profit, but when you have people that are working for you and you don’t fairly compensate those people, then to me, that reaches the greed level,” Kowalko said, adding he hopes to draft a livable wage bill this session.