I've worked at fast-food restaurants in North Carolina for the past 15 years. I've spent more hours at Church's Chicken, McDonald's and now Burger King than I can remember. I work hard – I never miss a shift and always arrive on time. But today, I'm going on strike.
I make $7.85 at Burger King as a guest ambassador and team leader, where I train new employees on restaurant regulations and perform the manager's duties in their absence. Before Burger King, I worked at Church's for 12 years, starting at $6.30 and ending at just a little more than $8 an hour.
I've never walked off a job before. I don't consider myself an activist, and I've never been involved with politics. I'm a mother with two sons, and like any mom knows, raising two teenage boys is tough. Raising them as a single mother, on less than $8 an hour, is nearly impossible, though.
My boys, Tramaine and Russell Jr are now 20 and 21 years old. When they were in middle and high school, I had to work two fast-food jobs to make ends meet. Most days, I would put them on the bus at 6:30am before working a 9 to 4 shift at one restaurant, then a 5-close shift at another. If I had a day off, I was at their schools, checking in with their teachers and making sure they were keeping up with their education. I wanted them, when they were grown-up, to not have to work two jobs.
My hours, like many of my coworkers, were cut this year, and I now work only 25 to 28 hours each week. I can't afford to pay my bills working part time and making $7.85, and last month, I lost my house. Now, I go back and forth between staying with Russell Jr and Tramaine. I never imagined my life would be like this at this point. I successfully raised two boys, and now I'm forced to live out of their spare bedrooms. That's why I'm on strike today.
About a month and a half ago, I saw a Facebook page for NC Raise UP, which encouraged fast-food workers in North Carolina to join with others around the country who are striking. Today, I am joining workers in 40 cities who are taking collective action for a $15 wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.
Most of the workers I've met on social media are just like me – mothers and fathers who wonder if they will ever get what they deserve, if they'll ever escape from poverty. We are walking off our jobs because we don't know how we are going to survive on these jobs. We're on strike because we can't afford not to strike.
Burger King says they can't pay employees like me higher wages because it would force them out of business. Yet last year it made $117m in profits and its CEO took home $6.47m. It would take me 634 years to earn that much.
I've worked in fast-food for 15 years, and I can't even afford my own rent payments. We just want fairness and to be able to provide for our families. No one who works every day should be forced to be homeless.
As a guest ambassador, my job is to keep customers happy, greeting them at the door, checking in with them at their tables and picking up their trash. I'm good at what I do. Customers have come in and have wanted to give me $25 gift certificates as a way of saying thank you. If only Burger King rewarded hard work in the same way.
I'm on strike today for the first time in my life, and surprisingly, I don't feel afraid. Like so many fast-food workers across this country, I know what it feels like to be truly afraid – afraid of having your children go to bed hungry, or having your heat turned off in February, or being evicted from your home. Today is not scary. Today is empowering.