WADESBORO — Fed-up workers at the Wadesboro Wendy’s quit this month, demanding higher wages and better working conditions just as many fast-food workers have done throughout the country over recent weeks.
Drive-thru customers at the Wadesboro Wendy’s may have noticed a sign that read “We All Quit!! CLOSED!! Bye Alisa! Love Wendy’s :),” hanging up on the speaker box on Monday, May 3.
Service was done for the day as a majority of the Wendy’s employees left. The location has since resumed operations, though it’s unclear how many staff remain.
Current and former staff at the Wadesboro Wendy’s could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday. A Twitter user identifying themselves as a cousin of one of the workers who quit said in a tweet that, “Him and ALL his coworkers turned in their headsets and uniforms because their manager hadn’t given anyone a raise in five years,” adding, “This is the revolution and it’s definitely being televised.”
This trend is not only happening in Anson, but throughout the country with handwritten signs, warning customers to expect delays due to the staff shortage, to be patient, or that the business closed indefinitely because of staff walk-outs. Some fast-food restaurants have cut back on operating hours or limited their service to only the drive thru due to the employee shortage.
The main reason for the food industry employee shortage can be traced to the employee’s frustration with low wages.
“Generally speaking before COVID came in, fast-food employees were leaders in the work force that was pushing for the fight to get $15 an hour, the minimum wage up to $15 an hour,” Pittsboro Lawyer Robert Willis who specializes in labor and employment law said. “Even if you’re getting paid $10 an hour, $10 an hour, 30 hours a week basically, which is not unusual for people working in fast food, $300 gross is not going to be able to support anybody.”
Many have argued that workers are just using up unemployment benefits to avoid working, but employees who quit “without good cause” do not qualify to receive unemployment benefits, according to Willis.
“At least under North Carolina law, ‘good cause’ does not equal getting paid above the minimum wage, but a wage that is not what you like,” Willis said. “If your employer reduced your hours because the employer did not have enough business because of COVID…that would be a different story.”
An employee who seeks unemployment because he or she did not have enough hours to earn a livable wage as a result of the pandemic would then qualify for unemployment benefits, according to Willis. He said the relief packages were set up to offset the potential loss in wages as hours may have been cut back significantly and for employees to earn what they earned before COVID-19.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Piedmont area of North Carolina had an annual mean wage of $21,670 in May of 2020 for Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations. This line of work includes chefs, cooks, fast food employees, bartenders, servers, dishwashers, hosts and counter workers.
Many of these food preparation and serving-related occupations, including servers, bartenders, cooks and food preparation workers, rank within the United States 100 lowest-paying jobs, according to data gathered by Stacker from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Stacker, an online news site, based the rankings off of average annual wage with the median hourly wage used as a tiebreaker.
Fast-food workers rank third among the lowest-paying jobs while fast-food cooks have the overall lowest paying job in the United States. Fast-food cooks earn an annual mean wage of $24,300, which is about 56.8% lower than the mean for all occupations.
Fast-food cooks, counter workers and waiters all have a median hourly wage between $11.40 to $11.70, which is above North Carolina’s $7.25 minimum wage, but it still falls below a livable salary based off of calculations from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
According to MIT, a livable hourly rage for a North Carolina resident with zero children is $14.72. This hourly wage represents the wage an individual must earn to support his or herself, assuming the person is working full-time or 2,080 hours a year.
The last time North Carolina raised the minimum wage was when the federal government raised the minimum wage in 2009. Before that, the minimum wage was increased in 2007 and 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website. But now it remains stuck at $7.25 over the past decade.
Fast food chains are desperate for employees as they are offering sign on bonuses. One McDonald’s in Florida is even paying people $50 to come in for an interview.
But these incentives can’t seem to bring in employees.
The lack of employees in the food industry can also be traced back to health concerns. People might be hesitant in coming back as a pandemic still looms around the country. Others credit virtual schooling with causing more workers to stay home as they need to be home with their children. But the main fight still circles around a $15 an hour wage.
McDonald’s workers in about 15 cities across the United States, including Raleigh-Durham, are expected to strike for higher wages on May 19, the day before the company’s annual shareholders meeting. Participants are planning to walk out of their job on May 19, making their voices heard for a $15 minimum wage. They are demanding that McDonald’s withdraw its membership from the National Restaurant Association and the International Franchise Association.
The fight for a higher wage is already getting noticed by corporations. Chipotle Mexican Grill announced in a press release on May 10 the restaurant will increase their hourly wage to $15 by the end of June. There is also a $200 referral bonus for crew members and $750 referral bonus for Apprentices or General Managers as a way to help fill 20,000 team members positions across the nation.
“I think the minimum wage should be $15 an hour,” Willis said. “Democrats have the 50 votes, but they don’t appear to want to use the 50 votes, at least not all 50 of them do.”
Reach Liz O’Connell at 704-994-5471 or at [email protected]