Why go on strike April 15? An Asheville fast-food worker shares her story

FIGHT FOR 15: Actions by fast-food workers have been increasing throughout the country over the past year. About 100 protesters were arrested at the McDonalds headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., during a labor action on May 21, 2014. Rev. Dr. William Barber II, leader of North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement and head of the NAACP’s N.C. chapter, is pictured leading a prayer vigil during the protest. Barber will join protesters on April 15 at Shaw University in Raleigh. In Asheville, protesters will gather at 71 Hendersonville Road. Photo by Pat Barcas

Yes, they’re striking for an increase in wages, but it’s not just about that, and the issue goes beyond conditions at fast-food chains.

On Wednesday, April 15, Johaunna Cromer will be walking off her job along with other Asheville fast-food workers who are mobilizing through the national Fight for 15 movement, which aims to send a message: Fast-food workers should earn a living wage in America and be treated better on the job.

Cromer, a single mother who has participated in four similar strikes in the Southeast, has worked at a fast-food franchise in Asheville for eight months. She says she enjoys the friendly customers and her co-workers but that the policies at her job make it difficult for this single mother to handle family matters.

The telephone policy at her restaurant states that no employees can use their telephones while on the clock, says Cromer. In January, her 8-year-old son had a seizure while at school, and Cromer was unreachable at work, even though the school called the restaurant’s phone number as well. Finally, the school sent someone to her workplace to get a message through. The experience, she says, left a lasting impression.

“They were calling for two hours,” she said. “It was very frustrating.”

Through the Fight for 15 movement, fast-food workers in 200 cities will be joined by adjunct college professors as well as home care, child care, airport, industrial laundry and Walmart workers at a rally that is being called by Fight For 15 “the most widespread mobilization ever by U.S. workers seeking higher pay.”

One of the core beliefs of the Fight for 15 movement is that fast food is no longer a stepping-stone to a larger career but a career in itself for millions of workers. Cromer said she believes that working 40 hours per week should earn her and other fast-food workers a wage on which they can live and feed their families.

“This is very intense work. You are taking orders from customers, stocking shelves, running back to help cooks, carrying boxes of fries — all with very little time — and keeping customers happy,” she says. “I’ve grown to respect fast-food workers — they deserve it.”

Cromer says finding a job outside the fast-food industry is easier said than done. She has an educational background in psychology and comes from California.

“The rules are different here. The laws are different. By the time you take the time to look and take the time to interview, you’re out two weeks of wages,” she says.

Those earning the $7.25 per hour that Cromer receives may only be surviving on the thinnest of margins, especially in Asheville. McDonald’s has said that franchisees are responsible for wage increases according to job level and local and federal laws. Cromer says that isn’t good enough.

“I’ve watched it firsthand here — the food, the cost of housing, it’s going up,” she says. “It’s hard. We just want to be treated like human beings and given what we deserve. Right now it’s very stressful and kind of degrading.”

The Asheville Fight for 15 rally will be held at 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 15, at 71 Hendersonville Road.

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About Pat Barcas
Pat is a photojournalist and writer who moved to Asheville in 2014. He previously worked for a labor and social rights advocacy newspaper in Chicago. Email him at pbarcas@gmail.com. Follow me @pbarcas

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14 thoughts on “Why go on strike April 15? An Asheville fast-food worker shares her story

  1. ashevillain7

    This is ridiculous. College graduates are having hard time finding work for $15/hr (especially around WNC). There’s no way that a fast food worker is worth $15/hr.

    I’ve worked fast food jobs when I was young so I know what the work entails. It’s just not worth that much. It requires little training and no education. These types of jobs (actually, most low wage jobs) were traditionally held by high school students or retired folks…i.e. for whom the income was supplemental. The people that want $15/hr for that job are just regular adults who want to work that for their primary source of income. They either have no opportunity or no motivation to better themselves. These fast food jobs are not supposed to be the end-game where one can support themselves or a family. Complacency is a big issue here but not the only issue.

    Minimum wage probably does need an increase but these jobs shouldn’t be paid at $15/hr. Something else needs to change so people working these low wage jobs have the ability to move on up. Opportunity seems to be increasingly limited. Cost of education keeps rising, putting it further out of reach for those who are motivated. Increasing fast food job wages is not the answer; increasing the opportunity and motivation to become upwardly mobile is.

    • randomdude

      Sadly you’re right there are a lot of college graduates working in low wage jobs. Many of those very people you are referring to are working in fast food and retail jobs. There is a reason why college students are joining the movement by the thousands and it is because they see their future as a wage slave unable to overcome the crushing debt education entails. Why is it ridiculous for those who are fed up with breaking their backs to line the pockets of others while their families go without to stand up for themselves. Those who have are quick to judge those without and often demand appreciation for crumbs falling off their table. No thanks. we have a lot more respect for ourselves than to remain silent while being treated this way.

      • Jim

        Make better choices in education and the debt isn’t an issue. Have known Barnes and Noble workers with such pursuits as archaeology and 16,000 in debt. In all honesty, blame the colleges who are treating their students as cash cows because that’s exactly what they are. And the government is the cause of it all. Especially when they’re the ones dangling the cash on one end yet making it impossible to discharge the debt via bankruptcy on the other.

    • calvin

      i cant tell it is not going to happen Seattle,LA, and NY has done it

  2. Why is it that we so blithely discount the wants and needs of our working class, the backbone of our service economy while simultaneously exalting the upper classes, many who are simply rentiers or beneficiaries of wealth that isn’t exactly earned through sweat and labor. Having worked for multi-national banks in NYC, I can attest that the lives those at the top lead are far removed, literally and figuratively, from those of normal working people. It sickens me to think that a trader can make in one day, what most fast food workers make in a year. And the fast food worker is actually making something, the trader is just playing casino with our money (thus our sweat). Every single worker in this country deserves a huge raise, and the rich should pay for it. For the past 40 years they’ve played Monopoly with our money, and every time they’ve passed Go the money has gone to them, not us. The ruse is up folks, the rich can no longer play their game of trickle down economics. We all know it’s trickle up. I say, tax the hell out of the greedy billionaires and their lesser minions, and bring back the middle class in America. To believe otherwise is to accept a new America of oligarchs ruling over us like some third world country. Or, is it already as such? When the Koch brothers plan on spending more money in the 2016 election than both major parties combined, you know we’re in trouble. Wake up and start by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and make the rich pay for it. Radical? Hell yeah. Fair? Absolutely.

    • Jim

      Rich pay??? Bahahaha the only people that will pay is those that eat out and watch their lunch cost 20 plus dollars. And guess what happens after that? They stop eating out and all these protestors end up unemployed.

      • C

        That’s because the plutocrats sole purpose is to make profit. They are NOT going to take in less money. They will make the public pay for it then the public gets mad at these whiney, gimme ,gimme upstarts who are actually at fault for having the gaul to ask for a living wage. Yoy have been duped.

  3. Dionysis

    There seems to be a bit of misinformation contained here, including the same discredited arguments against raising the minimum wage offered up by the restaurant industry and entities like The Heritage Institute for decades now. Same bilge…OMG, if we raise minimum wage, hamburgers will cost a fortune, jobs will be cut, it’s all doom and gloom. Nope, not true at all. The current minimum wage has lost about 7.8% in purchasing power since 1967 (in 2011 dollars). Various economic studies show that an increase to slightly over $10 per hour would have a dramatic effect on turnover, which runs about 120% in the fast-food industry per year, and costs $4,700 to replace each worker lost. Significant cost savings would accrue in this area.

    A thorough study by the Economic Policy Institute in 2012, called ‘The State of Working America’, 12th edition, should be required reading for anyone engaging in a debate about this topic. It can easily be found in PDF form on-line.

    http://www.epi.org/publication/declining-federal-minimum-wage-inequality/

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