By Kyle Taylor and Brian Williams – Capital News Service
Officials from McDonald’s defended their company’s practices after criticism Thursday from workers demanding a higher minimum wage.
“We proudly invest in the future of those who work in McDonald’s restaurants,” said Lisa McComb, a spokesperson for McDonald’s. “In addition to raising the minimum wage for employees at our company-owned restaurants, we also offer employees access to Archways to Opportunity, a set of programs McDonald’s pays for which helps them earn a high school diploma and get needed tuition assistance so they can work toward earning a college degree.”
Her statement came in response to an email Thursday from Capital News Service saying, “Over 40 protesters are striking outside of the McDonald’s on Chamberlayne Avenue in Richmond, VA, demanding the minimum wage to be raised to $15/hour. Do you have a statement or something to say back to them?”
Fast-food, health-care and child-care workers held two rallies Thursdaydemanding a wage increase. The morning protest was outside the McDonald’s restaurant on Chamberlayne Avenue, north of downtown Richmond; the afternoon demonstration was outside the McDonald’s at Broad Street and Boulevard.
The local demonstrators stood united with other low-wage workers across the country for the “Fight for $15” initiative. The campaign, which organizers call “the biggest-ever day of strikes,” has gained momentum recently as more than a dozen state and local governments approved legislation that will pay fast-food workers $15 per hour.
“This is an effort to ensure that anyone who works full-time doesn’t have to raise a family in poverty,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income Virginians.
Katrina Lewis is an organizer for Raise Up, a group fighting for a higher minimum wage.
“I’m just a regular person,” she said. “I work hard, and I’m not getting out what I put in. I’m supposed to be trading time for money, but in retrospect, I’m one-third of a person. I’m getting half the pay of a person, but I’m doing whole things like a whole person, like paying taxes, being a productive citizen …
“We have to make change. We’ve been waiting 10 years plus on a raise. We have to be out here, have to protest and speak out – to let people know that there are too many people out here working and struggling, not even meeting their basic needs.”
At the Chamberlayne Avenue protest, about 50 demonstrators held signs and chanted in unison, “We work, we sweat, put $15 on our checks,” and “Bump those burgers, bump those fries, we want our paychecks supersized.”
Traffic on Chamberlayne Avenue slowed in front of the business as a mix of curious drivers looked to see what was happening. Some drivers honked to show their support.
Some protesters brought their children along to be part of the rally. They included Leah Taylor of Richmond, who came with her teenage daughter, Briana.
“We are here trying to make sure that we get higher wages so we can survive, live and take care of our families at home,” said Taylor, who walked off her job at McDonald’s. “We don’t mind doing the work as long as we get paid for the hard work we do.”
According to ProgressVA, Taylor has been working in the fast-food industry for 26 years. She is paid $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage.
That is the minimum wage in Virginia as well. About 30 states have set their minimum wage above the federal level. The Virginia General Assembly not only killed legislation to boost the minimum wage in the commonwealth but also passed a bill preventing local governments from increasing the minimum wage. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has vetoed that bill.
McDonald’s is the world’s second-largest employer and the industry leader in the fast-food and service economy. According to the McDonald’s code of conduct for employees, the corporation places the customer experience at the core of all they do.
With the high expectation for top-notch customer service, the employees said they have little incentive to work harder when their wages aren’t enough to cover basic necessities.
“Our customers matter. We have to give our best to them,” Taylor said. “Shouldn’t we be treated better so we can make sure our families eat and we survive so we can keep helping customers?”
Thomasine Wilson, a health-care provider, joined the protesters to advocate for benefits including Medicaid, paid sick leave and paid vacations.
“We’re here to make sure that all Americans get better wages for the good work, the quality work, that we all do,” Wilson said. “We’re helping other people in health care, but we ourselves want to enrich our lives – and we are not able to even afford to go to the doctor.”
Nancy Collie, a child-care worker, agreed.
“This is important to us. Everyone deserves a livable wage,” she said. “We are investing in the future of children. We spend a lot of time with them – sometimes more time than their families do. We are really putting our whole hearts and souls so that they grow up well.”