Local protestors join call for higher fast-food wages

Aug. 29, 2013 @ 06:30 PM

Chanting “we are worth more” and “we can’t survive on $7.25,” a group of activists and fast-food workers gathered in front of the Burger King on West Club Boulevard in Durham early Thursday to urge higher wages for chain restaurant workers.

The demonstration was one of several in North Carolina and elsewhere in the country as part of a call for a $15-an-hour wage and the right to unionize without retaliation.

The nationwide strikes follows fast-food and retail worker strikes in New York, Chicago and other cities. The protest here was organized by groups including Action NC and the NAACP of North Carolina.

About 30 people were gathered before 7 a.m. on the sidewalk in front of the Durham restaurant, including Marcel McGirk of Durham. McGirk said he works at Burger King for $7.25 per hour despite years of experience, including in management, for companies including McDonald’s and Kroger.

“I need money to pay my bills,” McGirk said, adding that it’s tough paying for his apartment, cell phone bill and other expenses on his budget. He said a rule went into effect last month that restricts him to working 30 or fewer hours a week.

He said he was afraid of retaliation by his employer, but said he joined “because if we can’t stand up for something we’ll fall for anything.”

The Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Durham, was a part of the demonstration at the Burger King Thursday. He said he’s concerned some people are not earning a living wage and are struggling in this economy.

He said some people have come to the church looking for emergency assistance. There are people underemployed with jobs at fast-food restaurants with temporary hours and no benefits, he said. He wants to see large corporations pay their employees more.

After holding the demonstration on the sidewalk in front of the Burger King, protestors moved to a McDonald’s restaurant in Durham. Demonstrations were planned Thursday in

in Greensboro, Charlotte and Raleigh.

A worker inside the Burger King in Durham declined to be interviewed. In an emailed statement, the company said Burger King restaurants have provided an entry into the workforce for millions of Americans, including many franchisees.

The corporation respects the rights of workers, the statement said, but it “does not make hiring, firing or other employment-related decisions for our franchisees.”

“Burger King restaurants offer compensation and benefits that are consistent with the (quick-service restaurant) industry,” the statement said. “In addition, through the Burger King McLamore Foundation, all Burger King employees and their families are eligible for college scholarships to encourage further growth and education.”

McDonald’s said in a statement that “the story promoted by the individuals organizing these events” doesn’t provide an accurate picture of what it’s like to work at McDonald’s.

“McDonald’s aims to offer competitive pay and benefits to our employees,” the statement said. “We provide training and professional development for all of those who wish to take advantage of those opportunities. Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald's.”

The National Retail Federation’s Bill Thorne, senior vice president of communications and public affairs, said in a statement that it’s not in the best interest of any business to “spend money to recruit, train and then penalize employees.” He also said that retail and restaurant companies pay competitive wages, and many offer additional benefits.

“Retail and restaurant jobs are good jobs, held by millions of working men and women, who are proud of what they do for their customers and the communities they serve across America,” he said. “The planned walkout is the result of a multi-year effort by big labor to diminish and disparage these hard-working Americans by attacking the companies they work for.”

Multiple media outlets, including the Associated Press, reported that the Service Employees International Union provided funding to support the fast-food worker protests.

The union has more than 2.1 million members, representing workers in health care, public services, and property services, according to its website. Attempts to reach a union official for this story were unsuccessful.