Fast Food Workers: Sometimes you gotta take a stand

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click to enlarge Donavin Allicock, 10, takes part in December's Fast Food Workers Protest to support mom, Nijah Pretzer. Dad, Sherwyn, left, supports his wife 100% - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Donavin Allicock, 10, takes part in December's Fast Food Workers Protest to support mom, Nijah Pretzer. Dad, Sherwyn, left, supports his wife 100%
  • Kimberly DeFalco
  • Donavin Allicock, 10, takes part in December's Fast Food Workers Protest to support mom, Nijah Pretzer. Dad, Sherwyn, left, supports his wife 100%

Sometimes you have to take a stand just because it feels like the right thing to do.

For Dunkin’ Donuts’ employee Nijah Pretzer, 33, taking part in the December 5th Fast Food Workers Protest, was the right thing to do.

It was the right thing for her husband, Sherwyn Allicock, 33, and children Donavin, 10, and Jacob, 7, also.

“They totally supported me on this,” Pretzer said of her sign-carrying family who joined about 75 other protesters in the Busch Boulevard demonstration.

Dismayed by work-place injustices, primarily wage-related, Pretzer decided to protest with co-workers LaShonna Delgardo and Britney Wilkerson after gaining education on workers’ rights.

Informed by representatives Florida Fast Food Workers For Fair Pay and the Florida Consumer Action Network (FCAN), Pretzer and her associates received a crash course on federal rights afforded all employees. Her Dunkin’ Donuts' managers were informed also, as were other bay area fast food and service industry workers and managers.

Florida Fast Workers For Fair Pay is a grassroots organization dedicated to fighting for a living wage and for workers' right to form a union without retaliation.

FCAN, a grassroots organization which empowers citizens to influence public policy through organizing and education, heightens consumer voices in areas often under-represented.

Dunkin’ Donuts’ manager Mark Guzzo, on the job at the Busch Boulevard location for only a week prior to the protest, is grateful for the education they provided him.

“I applaud our employees for taking steps to get recognized by speaking out” Guzzo said. “Their requests and concerns are realistic and once I was educated, I felt comfortable with their participation.”

Guzzo explained that workers’ wages are not determined by him, but by the proprietor of the franchise.

“I try to show my appreciation in little ways at the store, often paying out of my own pocket,” Guzzo said. “As a manager, there’s only so much I can do with some issues but the employees have rights which I recognize.”

But, what about repercussions?

Shift changes? Reduced hours? Snarky managers retaliating in sneaky, subtle ways?

Surprisingly, for the majority of workers participating in protests nationwide in over 100 cities December 4th, punishment came from co-workers, not managers — for the most part.

“Basically, I was ganged up on by several co-workers,” Wilkerson, 24, said. “My personal stuff was thrown at me and I was called a traitor.”

Delgardo experienced the same thing.

“I’ve gotten a lot of backlash,” Delgardo said. “I don’t understand it as I’m not doing it just for myself. I see everybody struggling on a daily basis.”

“For people telling me it’s not worth it, or that I’m screwing the company, when what I see is the company screwing me on a daily basis,, I just don’t get it.”

A single mother to two-year-old Kaliyah, Delgardo holds certifications in phlebotomy and as an EKG technician. She has been unable to find work in those fields compatible with her transportation logistics.

Delgardo must also work around her daughter’s needs. Kaliyah suffers from asthma and allergies. With $650 monthly rent and no car, Delgardo walks to work. She receives food stamps, which often fall short.

A positive residual from her protest participation has been an enhanced level of symbiotic respect between Delgardo and Guzzo.

“He had only been there a week or so before the protest and he didn't really know me,” Delgardo said. “I feel the dynamic changed and he now gives me a little more respect.”

  • Dunkin' Donuts employees Britney Wilkerson, left, and LaShonna Delgardo are confronted by McDonald's management and security regarding approaching the property to voice their concerns. Protesters were advised to remain on the sidewalk.

The one-day fast food strikes have generated headlines, but for the most part, workers’ paychecks have not reflected much change.

According to 14-month Dunkin’ Donuts employee Pretzer, she, along with fellow employees, were scheduled to receive raises at increments of three months continuous employment and again at one year.

Pretzer received the three-month hourly increase. The one-year raise has yet to surface.

“We were told the store is losing money,” Pretzer said. “That no one would receive a raise at this time.”

Pretzer’s opinion is that the store appears to be busier than ever as new “Happy Hour” 3 p.m.-6 p.m. specials have been initiated and appear to be generating increased sales.

Dunkin’ Donuts management would not comment on the issue.

Labor experts say the franchisee model of fast food chains, in which most of the individual restaurants are run by independent owners, set wages on individual personal business models.

Nation-wide, direct employee/management retaliations have been minimum.

Gregory King, director of the Washington, D.C..-based National Labor Relations Board, could not comment on any individual cases but he said no on-slaught of repercussions was obvious to him.

Harlem-based National Action Network, (NAN), a not-for-profit civil rights organization with over sixty chapters nationwide and regional offices from coast to coast, has monitored this issue closely.

Founded by the Reverend Al Sharpton, NAN is considered to be one of the most active social justice organizations in the country.

Harlem-chapter crisis director June Moses said that so far, no reports on employee protest repercussions have been reported.

“That’s not to say that they won’t,” Moses said. “Sometimes these issues take a while to surface.”

Shaneika Bailey, manager for Miami’s National Action Network, echoed the same results.

Locally, Tim Heberlein, FCAN’s political director, is unaware of any direct repercussions.

Globally, retribution has been more severe.

In China, Wal-mart employees have voiced salary impropriety for years. Since China opened its first of a current total 390 stores 18 years ago, the starting salary for employees at Wal-Mart in China has only gone up by 73 cents an hour.

With an economy that is rapidly developing, the cost of living in China has too.

Workers are not happy.

They want to protest. They want to demand higher wages.

The All China Federation of Trade Unions, — the only worker's union allowed under Chinese law— leans heavily towards the needs of company management, rather than employees.

In recent years, employees have taken to garnering fellow-employee signatures asking Wal-Mart and union officials for better wages.

Several have been fired Several have sued, winning and ordering Wal-Mart to rehire them. Appeals are pending.

In President Obama’s State of the Union address scheduled for Tuesday night, he is expected to announce that he is raising the minimum wage for new federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour.

“Well, at least someone is getting recognized for their service,” Pretzer said,. “Someone has to do these jobs and be respected while they do it. It’s not always pretty.”

  • Sherwyn Allicock, center, joins Fast Food Workers' Protest in support of his wife. Son Donavin, 10, joined enthusiastically.

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