Fast food workers' strike: Protesters march for $15 minimum wage

click to enlarge Protesters lead a Ronald McDonald effigy in protest of minimum wage and working conditions. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Protesters lead a Ronald McDonald effigy in protest of minimum wage and working conditions.

click to enlarge Protesters lead a Ronald McDonald effigy in protest of minimum wage and working conditions. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Protesters lead a Ronald McDonald effigy in protest of minimum wage and working conditions.
  • Kimberly DeFalco
  • Protesters lead a Ronald McDonald effigy in protest of working conditions and low wages.

Two-year-old Kaliyah Austin vomited.

Before calling the doctor, LaShonna Delgardo, the toddler’s single mom, made a 7:45 a.m. call to her Dunkin’ Donuts supervisor on November 21.

The response from her supervisor, Delgardo's fourth in a year, wasn't good.

Despite finding a replacement, co-worker Britney Wilkerson, to cover her 3 p.m. shift, Delgardo was informed that her hours would be cut if she did not make the 1 p.m. staff meeting and her shift.

Suffering from asthma and allergies, Kaliyah was exhibiting symptoms of something severe.

Delgardo rushed her to the doctor and then scrambled to make the 1 p.m. employee meeting.

Kaliyah vomited throughout the meeting.

Employed as a Team Leader at Dunkin’ Donuts for 16 months, Delgardo took part in Thursday’s Fast Food Workers Strike! March For 15!

She joined about 75 other protesters outside Kentucky Fried Chicken on East Busch Boulevard in solidarity with 100-plus city protests to raise awareness of the needs of minimum wage workers.

Representing Florida Fast Food Workers for Fair Pay, Delgardo and Wilkerson helped organized the rally.

Earlier in the day, a 6:30 a.m. protest was held at Dunkin’ Donuts on East Busch Boulevard. Approximately 40 people showed up, Delgardo and Wilkerson among them.

  • Dunkin' Donuts employees Britney Wilkerson, left, and LaShonna Delgardo voice their opinions to McDonald's management

As momentum builds nationwide for an increase in the minimum wage, many states and localities have been raising the minimum on their own, up from the federal government’s $7.25 hourly rate set in 2009.

Backed by organized labor, including the Service Employees International Union, the protesters not only spoke up against low wages but also unfair practices and lack of respect.

“We don’t have any rights,” Delgardo said. “We make the money for them and are treated like second-class citizens.”

In her 16 months at Dunkin’ Donuts, Delgardo has never missed a shift, often filling in for associates unable to work.

As Team Leader, Delgardo makes $8.30 an hour, up from $7.99 when hired.

Though Delgardo holds certifications in phlebotomy and as an EKG technician, she has been unable to find work in those fields. With $650 monthly rent and no car, Delgardo walks to work. She receives food stamps, which often fall short.

In Florida, minimum wage stands at $7.79 an hour.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia join Florida in higher-than-average wages.

California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island have passed bills elevating the minimum wage in 2014. New Jersey voters agreed to do the same on their November ballots.

The rhetoric continues on both sides as businesses argue that increasing the minimum wage could increase costs and force many workers out of their jobs.

Workers argue that increased wages translate into additional spending by minimum wage workers.

With economic disparities gaining attention nationally and internationally, workers' demands of $15 an hour incite the ire of those opposed.

Many view the $15-an-hour standard as more of a rallying point than an expectation.

Pastor Russell Meyer of the Florida Council of Churches believes it comes down to common sense.

"One out of three people in our country is food insecure and the reason is because of poverty wages," Meyer said. "My taxes provide food stamps and rent assistance because corporations like KFC won't pay living wages."

Meyer said it takes the average fast-food worker at least two minimum-wage jobs to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment.

"Many of these corporations' business models make work difficult for employees so they can continue to hire and rehire at minimum wage," Meyer said.

Meyer admits to indulging in fast food as he travels frequently.

"It's not about denying businesses but about making it a win-win situation," Meyers said.

Meyers said he felt compelled to speak out for those who can't or who fear repercussions.

For the most part, Tampa's protests continued peacefully. When lines were crossed, as they were at the McDonald's on East Busch Boulevard, McDonald's management stood back and watched and then politely asked protesters to stay on the sidewalk, out of the way of patron automobile traffic.

Tampa police stood by.

As a couple of protesters challenged the request, Kelly Benjamin, one of the protest's organizers (and an occasional CL contributor), stepped up to mediate and announce the passing of Nelson Mandelsa.

"As we stand here today, with the news of Nelson Mandela's passing, we should reflect on what he fought for, what he stood for," Benjamin said. "He was against inequality, injustice, discrimination, and we should reflect on why we are here standing in front of this multi-billion-dollar corporation that pays poverty wages."

Calming the crowd, Benjamin continued.

"The issues that Nelson Mandela fought for and what we are fighting for, are the same."

  • Kelly Benjamin informs the protesters of Nelson Mandela's passing and asks for their compliance with McDonald's requests to remain off the property

In President Obama's economic policy speech Wednesday, he addressed the disparity of pay among fast food and retail workers and the need to raise the federal minimum wage.

"They work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty," Obama said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev said a wage hike vote will take place before the end of the year.

With Republicans staunchly opposed to it, the measure is not expected to pass in the House.

  • Makenzie Parker, 5, joined her neighbors in Tampa's Fast Food Workers' Strike at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Parker rode her pink bike a couple of blocks and joined so she "could help people."

  • McDonald's management watch as protesters approach the property

  • Florida Council of Churches' Pastor Russell Meyer joined the protest

  • A Tampa Police officer monitors the conclusion of the protest

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