by Paul Bowers
When Cherri Delesline started working at McDonald's 10 years ago, she made $7.25 an hour. Her pay today? $7.35 an hour, she says.
Delesline, who works at the McDonald's on West Montague Avenue in North Charleston, was one of a handful of McDonald's workers and labor organizers who showed up to a protest rally in the rain outside of her workplace today. The protesters demanded a $15 minimum wage from the company and the right to form unions without fear of retaliation. They chanted slogans outside the windows of the restaurant, at one point attempting to push through the door before an employee working in the restaurant closed and locked it. The rain kept pouring, so they huddled under the building's eaves and took turns chanting slogans into a megaphone:
"Hey hey, ho ho, McDonald's greed has gotta go."
"We can't survive on $7.25."
"Move, corporate, get out the way."
The protesters included representatives from the International Longshoremen's Association, AFL-CIO of South Carolina, and the regional organizing group Raise Up For 15. During speeches, which were delivered via the megaphone within earshot of customers in the restaurant, they alluded to a recent statement from the National Labor Relations Board stating that McDonald's Corporation plays an important role in determining the wages paid at individual restaurants. The company has said that it does not control the employment decisions at its franchised restaurants, but the NLRB's general counsel said Tuesday that McDonald's Corporation could be named a joint employer in several worker's-rights complaints that have been made against franchise-owned restaurants.
McDonald's Corporation has come out strongly against the decision, with human resources VP Heather Smedstad telling the Associated Press that allowing workers to call the corporation a joint employer marked "a radical departure" that "should be a concern to businessmen and -women across the country."
As for the $15 wage demand, it's partly based on the concept of a living wage, the minimum hourly rate needed to meet the basic needs of a full-time worker. According to MIT's Living Wage Calculator (which factors in local costs of food, child care, transportation, housing, and other items), the living wage for a single adult in Charleston county is $9.74 an hour. That rate goes up for households with children; the living wage for a single adult with three children is listed as $26.84 an hour.
Delesline, who has four children and says she works 35 hours per week at McDonald's, says she had to move back in with her mother to make ends meet. When asked the question that shows up in the comments section of every fast-food labor dispute story — "Why don't you go get a different job?" — she says she likes her current job and shouldn't have to change careers in order to earn a livable wage.
"Why should I have to change my job? I like what I do," Delesline says. "McDonald's is a job. McDonald's just needs to give people a livable wage. I shouldn't have to change my job because they don't want to give me a wage to take care of my family. I'm helping them make the money to keep their business running, so why can't they make sure that I can take care of my business?"
Delesline says she has worked other jobs in addition to McDonald's to pay the bills through the years, but she has stayed with the restaurant, partly because she enjoys interacting with customers. She currently works as a cashier and drive-thru employee.
At the restaurant, Delesline says she has broached the topic of forming a union with her fellow employees and has gained a lot of support. She has been in contact with Raise Up For 15, which organizes protests by fast food workers in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and last week she traveled to Chicago to attend a restaurant labor organizing conference put on by the national group Fight For 15.
"Everybody thinks that people working at McDonald's are a bunch of high school students," Delesline says. "Really, we have people in here who've got families, they've got kids of their own. People in here are grandmothers. And they're only making $7.25 or $7.35."