RALEIGH — At $7.95 an hour, Lucia Gareia Legua brings in about $200 a week from her job at a Raleigh McDonalds restaurant an amount that barely covers rent, leaving her to rely on food stamps to feed her three kids.
Shes ready to push for better pay and working conditions, and on Thursday shell join other fast-food workers from around the Triangle and across the nation to strike for a living wage.
I want a better future for my kids, the 37-year-old mom said through a translator.
Organized largely through social media, the walkout takes place Thursday from fast-food restaurants nationwide. The movement is calling for $15-per-hour wages and the right to form a union. Locally, workers from about 30 eateries in the Triangle will leave work to protest, culminating in an afternoon march at Raleighs Martin Street Baptist Church the same spot that launched some of the Moral Monday rallies earlier this year.
The pay is inadequate, and the conditions are inadequate, said Pat McCoy, director of Action NC, one of the community groups organizing the Triangle event. A living wage is the goal here. ... This is an industry where people are considered to be particularly vulnerable.
Some local fast-food workers said their part-time hours and low pay make them reliant on government assistance. Regina Mays, a 34-year-old single mom, cant afford to rent with the minimum wage she earns at a Durham Little Caesars Pizza.
My family and I are homeless due to poor pay right now, Mays said.
Mays says she never intended to get stuck with a 20-hour-a-week food service job. An Army veteran, she was laid off from a job at GlaxoSmithKline that paid twice as much. She said shes searching for another part-time job but cant find one.
At Little Caesars, she said she once wasnt given a shift for four weeks due to a misunderstanding with managers. Thats when she lost her home. And while the pizza joints part-time workers arent supposed to exceed their hours, she said they sometimes clock out and stick around to help the next shift.
To me, thats considered like stealing money from the employees, because youre asking for free labor, Mays said.
Gareia Legua also has a list of workplace changes shed like to see at McDonalds. Shes upset that workers have to take meal breaks in a tiny back room theyre forbidden from eating in the main dining room, she said. And after injuring her arm on the job, Gareia Legua says she immediately returned and cooked hamburgers with one hand.
McCoy said other fast-food workers have similar complaints, and they have few options outside of the industry. Many of these people are older workers who have been at these jobs for a number of years, he said.
Representatives from three Raleigh fast-food franchises did not return calls seeking comment on the protests. Nationally, opponents of a higher minimum wage have said the change could hurt job creation.
But Allan Freyer, an economic policy analyst at the left-leaning N.C. Budget and Tax Center, doesnt buy that theory. The evidence from academic economists is pretty clear: Raising the wage for fast-food workers is good for the economy, he said, noting that the change improves productivity, reduces turnover and results in workers buying more goods from their employers.
Its rare for fast-food workers to go on strike, especially in states like North Carolina that limit unions. Employees such as Mays and Gareia Legua say theyre concerned how their employers will react, but theyre eager to take action.
In history, the ones that create the change feel the backdraft of the change, Mays said. I am very excited for the things that this organization is trying to create.
Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter