Tremaine Tribble moved to Charlotte three years ago to take a job as the manager of a local Taco Bell. For about two years he made $9 an hour. After he was demoted last year, which he blames on a lack of reliable transportation to and from work, his pay was cut to $7.75. Now Tribble, who is in his 30s, lives in a hotel with his girlfriend and her two children and makes barely enough to cover rent and public transportation. He said he is one missed paycheck away from losing what shelter he has.
Tribble joined about 40 fast-food workers and activists Thursday morning as part of a nationwide protest in 50 cities of fast-food restaurants and, what activists call, the "unlivable" wages they pay.
The pay disparity between fast-food CEOs and their restaurant employees has doubled in the last 10 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Twenty years ago, McDonald's CEO made about 230 times more than one of the company's full-time employees who made minimum wage. Last year, his successor earned about 580 times more.
Since the end of the recession in 2009 the industry has experienced more job growth - about 7 percent - than the U.S. average - about -1 percent. Older, unemployed people, like Tribble, are seeking the jobs more than any demographic.
With about 124,660 workers, fast-food restaurants are among the top employers in North Carolina. They pay a median of $8.56.
Protesters around the country were asking for a $7 raise to stop "relying on public assistance just to afford the basics," per a statement from the organizers of the North Carolina rallies.
Tribble said the increase is reasonable, considering the work he and other employees invest in the $200 billion industry.
"As a manager, you're in charge of the money, the safety of the employees, and customers," some of whom, Tribble said, "look down on us because of how much we make."
Led by Action NC organizers, the fast-food workers in Charlotte started their protest in an empty parking lot on South Boulevard and made their way to a nearby Taco Bell. For about an hour, they held signs and chanted things like, "No more burgers, no more fries, make our wages supersized." The Taco Bell employees locked the doors but kept the drive-thru open. (Taco Bell's corporate headquarters refused to comment for this story.)
Kenny Colbert, president of a local HR consulting company, observed the protesters for a few minutes. He said he respects a worker's right to a living wage but that the crowd outside the Taco Bell was asking for too much.
"Every company is in business to make a profit," Colbert said. "They have the right to do that."
If workers are unhappy, he added, they "need to further their education and move to another business. If the market rates are $7.25 to $10 an hour, why should McDonald's workers make $5 more than everyone?"
Like fast-food workers, public-sector employees are often paid just at or slightly above $7.25, the federal minimum wage. Activists on Thursday argued the wage should increase in general to cover the growing cost of living.
In January, after President Obama called for a $1.75 increase to the $7.25, 29 states drafted wage-increase bills. Only New York signed on. By 2016, minimum wage there will increase to $9.
The failure of many of the bills is largely attributed to restaurant-industry lobbyists. According to a Restaurant.org story:
"Raising the minimum wage forces restaurants and other small businesses to make unfortunate operational decisions to meet their increased labor costs," Matthew Sutton, California Restaurant Association's vice president of government affairs and public policy, wrote in a letter. "Restaurants have no choice but to adjust their business plans and budgets, which may mean foregoing expansion and/or reducing hours and opportunities for employees."
But Tribble said it makes good business sense to increase wages.
"When we work happier, we make more money for the restaurant," he said.
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