Politics & Government

34 arrested while advocating for a $15 minimum wage and better conditions for NC poor

Thirty-four protesters were arrested at the North Carolina Legislative Building on Monday while fighting for higher minimum wages and unions in North Carolina.

This is the fifth week of protests by the Poor People's Campaign, a coordinated effort across the country to push the plight of the poor to the top of the agenda in statehouses and the U.S. Congress.

The Rev. William J. Barber II, the former head of the state NAACP and architect of the Moral Monday protest movement, co-founded the campaign.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. outlined a multi-faith, multicultural plan in the late 1960s to draw attention to income inequality, working conditions and economic injustices that he thought the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 failed to address.

Fifty years have passed since then, but Barber and others who organized the modern campaign say many of the needs and demands outlined a half century ago remain unmet.

At a rally on Monday, several hundred people gathered across the street from the Legislative Building, where lawmakers set policies and budgets that play a large role in North Carolina's economic outlook. This year, the state budget guarantees most state workers $15 an hour. But there are no provisions to set a statewide standard for workers in private industry, nor does it lift a ban on cities and counties that want to have their own living wage ordinances.

The protesters and rally speakers used statistics from the Institute for Policy Studies, the N.C. Housing Coalition, census reports, the state Department of Public Instruction and the N.C. "Quality Counts" report to highlight their concerns.

Workers from several fast-food chains and other low-wage earners shared their stories to show how any unexpected illness or time away from work can upend a family budget.

Did you know, the rally leaders called out:

  • The average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in North Carolina is $933 and 43 percent of renters cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment;

  • Wake County had an 8 percent increase in the homeless population in 2017;

  • The real median income for a North Carolina family decreased from $51,891 in 2008 to $50,584 in 2017.

With those statistics, the crowd moved inside and fanned out to three different parts of the building to deliver demands to lawmakers.

Three people staged a sit-in inside the office of Tim Moore, the Cleveland County Republican who has been the House speaker since 2014. Dozens of others gathered outside the large gold doors to the floor where lawmakers vote on bills, budgets and other policies. Another group waited inside a room where Senate leaders were scheduled to hold a meeting.

Some of the protesters shouted: "Unions now."

Others called for a statewide minimum wage hike to at least $15 an hour as part of a national campaign led by low-wage workers in the retail and food industry.

Wanda Coker, 51, told the crowd she is an assistant manager at a Burger King in Raleigh. She has kidney disease, she said, and is in need of dialysis several times a week.

Though Coker has been able to hold on to her job, despite her illness, she worried about those in the fast-food industry who are not in management positions.

"No one should have to worry that an unexpected illness will leave you out on the streets," Coker said.

Inside the Legislative Building, where protesters sang, staged sit-ins and gave more speeches, General Assembly police asked them to leave and then arrested them on trespass charges.

So far, more than 100 people have been arrested or issued citations for their nonviolent acts of civil disobedience in Raleigh as part of the Poor People's Campaign.