Rally supports nationwide minimum-wage fight
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 50 people gathered outside McDonald's on Washington Street, near the state Capitol, at noon on Thursday to protest low wages paid to fast-food workers.
It was part of a national day of protest in 100 cities nationwide led by the Service Employees International Union.
Brooke Drake, events coordinator for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said current fast-food workers were scared to join the protest.
"I spoke to them. They are afraid to come out. They can't be seen. They are afraid they will be fired immediately," said Drake, who previously worked as a waitress. "But they are here in spirit."
Chanting "Hey Ho. Poverty Wages Have Got To Go," many people at the rally held up signs, reading: "Raise Pay to a Livable Wage"; "McPoverty -- I'm Hating It"; "Raise Their Pay - I'm Loving It".
Thursday's rally was organized by West Virginians United, a newly formed coalition including members from labor unions, women's organizations, social workers, public interest groups and the West Virginia Council of Churches.
Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia, said, "We are out here supporting an increase in the minimum wage for workers. Across the country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. We have to do something to help the working class survive."
Sam Hickman, executive director of West Virginia's chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, held up a graphic showing the relations between education and earning the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Nationally, 28 percent never graduated from high school, 31 percent have high school diplomas and 34 have some college courses or a two-year associate's degree. Only 7 percent have bachelor's degrees.
Rick Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee WV Economic Justice Project, said, "There will be a push in the state Legislature next year to get a higher minimum wage."
Emily Myers Duke, a senior communications specialist with Moroch, a Parkersburg-based firm representing McDonald's, was at Thursday's rally. She said local managers at McDonald's would not comment.
"We're not allowed to give any kind of interviews today," Duke said.
Duke distributed a statement from Lisa McComb, a national spokesperson for McDonald's USA.
"McDonald's and our owner-operators are committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed. We offer employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits. And we invest in training and professional development that helps them learn practical and transferable business skills.
"We also respect the right to voice an opinion. To right-size the headlines, however, the events taking place are not strikes. Outside groups are traveling to McDonald's and other outlets to stage rallies. Our restaurants remain open today - and every day - thanks to our dedicated employees serving our customers," McComb stated.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, has introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016 and increase it according to the rate of inflation in future years.
On Thursday, Miller said, "The American people get it. A recent national poll found that, by a ratio of four to one, Americans support raising the minimum wage. This support cuts across all political affiliations and regions of the country.
"I stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers protesting today," Miller said. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
Jim Hightower -- who publishes the monthly "Hightower Lowdown" -- based in Texas, recently wrote that McDonald's workers get public subsidies totaling $1.2 billion a year.
Benefits collected by those poorly paid workers include: food stamps, Medicaid, child welfare payments and public housing.
Last year, Hightower added, McDonald's made $5.6 billion in profits and more than tripled the annual pay of its new CEO, from $4.1 million to $13.8 million a year.