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St. Louis fast food workers protest again over wages

St. Louis fast food workers protest again over wages


Updated at 4:25 p.m.

Labor organizers on Thursday turned up the pressure on McDonald's and other fast-food chains to raise worker pay, with job actions and protests in more than 150 cities, including St. Louis.

The demonstrations were part of a year-long campaign by unions to bring attention to the plight of low-wage workers and get the public behind the idea of a $15-an-hour wage.

In Ferguson, about 150 protesters stood in front of a McDonald's during the breakfast rush and shouted slogans about wanting more pay.

"We want change and we don't mean pennies," they chanted.

Corey Ford, 18, has worked at the store for two years and earns $7.69 an hour. He said he's supported, in part, by family but thinks the restaurant should pay workers more.

"We need $15 an hour," he said. "McDonald's makes so much money I don't see how they can't afford it."

Ifama Kellin, 20, is a crew trainer at the Ferguson restaurant. After three years on the job, she's taken on new responsibilities but still only makes slightly above minimum wage. Her paycheck is gone the day she gets it — after she pays rent, a car loan, her phone bill and other living expenses.

"It was just supposed to be a summer job, but I'm still here," she said.

But for her, McDonald's is not the end. She plans to start college in the fall and one day open her own bridal dress shop. Will she pay her workers $15 an hour?

"Maybe $11 or $12," she said sheepishly, "depending on how the business is going."

About an hour later, the same workers and protesters traveled to a McDonald's on Tucker Boulevard and flooded the restaurant, chanting at the front counter "We got your back." Patrons couldn't order — the shouting was too loud.

Among the protesters was LaShunda Moore, 36, who works at the McDonald's on Lindell Boulevard. She said she works hard but only earns $7.85 an hour after 14 months on the job.

"I start work at 5 a.m., and by 5:05 a.m., I'm sweating," she said. "I work in the grill area, and people don't see all the work we do."

Moore is the mother of five children, but they live with their father because "I don't get paid enough to support everyone," she said. "He's a telemarketer and sits down all day but gets paid better than I do."

Moore said she feels stuck in her job and her apartment. She has asked her boss, to no avail, if she can advance or get even a quarter more an hour. "The way the job market is, I'm not going to find anything better," she said.

Another protester who feels stuck is Candace Mapp, 28, who has worked three years at McDonald's. At $7.65 an hour, she takes home about $420 every two weeks after taxes. "I do have a plan," she said. "I want to go back to school. But if I go back to school, I can't pay my bills."

Coordinators with Show Me 15, the group leading the protest, targeted several other area restaurants, including a Wendy's on Gravois Road.

Turnout for the protests have varied widely. The scope of actions planned for overseas also differed depending on the country. Images on social media showed workers demonstrating in Ireland, Denmark and Brazil, among other nations.

In New York City, a couple hundred demonstrators beat drums, blew whistles and chanted in the rain outside a Domino's for about a half hour. Among those who took turns speaking were local lawmakers, community leaders and fast-food workers.

"Corporations are able to make money — millions and billions of dollars. We should be able to make a decent salary so we can take care of our families," said Sheila Brown, a mother of four who works at a KFC.

In downtown Chicago, dozens of fast food workers and community activists gathered early Thursday outside the so-called Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's to call for wages of $15 per hour and better working conditions.

Delores Leonard of Bronzeville, Ill., said she joined the demonstration because the $8.25 she earns as a cashier at a South Side McDonalds doesn't cover half of her rent and utility bills. The mother of two daughters said she relies on government assistance, food stamps and Medicaid, to make ends meet.

"(The) people that prepare the food are the heart and soul of the services," she said. "It's absurd for $8.25. It's just not enough, and if they were in our shoes, they would understand."

Over in Philadelphia, 19-year-old Justice Wallace said she earns $7.50 an hour and was on strike because she wants $15 an hour and a union.

"It's a poverty wage. We can't live off of it," she said.

Although many customers say they're not aware of the ongoing actions, the campaign has captured national media attention at a time when the income gap between the rich and poor has widened and executive pay packages have come under greater scrutiny.

President Barack Obama has also been working to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The current rate of $7.25 an hour translates to about $15,000 a year, assuming a person works 40 hours a week.

Still, fast-food workers have historically been considered difficult to unionize, since many are part-timers who don't stay on the job for long. But supporters say that is changing, with more people relying on such jobs to support families. Last week, workers and union representatives from countries including Argentina, China, El Salvador, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom met in New York City to strategize for the day of global actions.

McDonald's, which has more than 35,000 locations globally, said in a statement that the debate over wages needed to take into account "the highly competitive nature of the industries that employ minimum wage workers."

The National Restaurant Association called the actions "nothing more than big labor's attempt to push their own agenda."

Kim Bell of the Post-Dispatch, the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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