Labor activists go after Burger King in support of fired single mom listen11/22/13 Janelle Irwin
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A 19-year old single mother was fired from a Tampa Burger King Friday for what she claims is retaliation for trying to organize with a union for a living wage. Less than 12 hours after she was terminated, more than 30 union leaders and community activists rallied support for the minimum wage worker at the Burger King at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Armenia Avenue.
Labor activists flooded the Burger King dining room and order counter inside the fast food joint demanding to speak with a manager about putting India Lewis back on the schedule. After twenty minutes of chanting, a supervisor identified as Denise showed up, but refused to speak to Lewis despite pleas from union representatives that her termination was illegal.
“It’s a federal law. Where’s the manager? You appear to be in violation of that law. Did she leave? She went out the back door. She’s hiding, yeah.”
About twenty minutes later a man who appeared to be either the general manager or franchise owner identified as Dan showed up and phoned the Tampa Police Department. When AFL-CIO union central labor council member Dustin Ponder found Dan at the back door of Burger King, he wouldn’t comment on the termination. Ponder says workers have the right to organize for better wages and working conditions.
“Well, we think all workers deserve a decent living, rights at work and a say in their lives. Right now companies like Burger King and all kinds of fast food chains are denying that to their workforce and they’re clamping down and repressing workers who speak up and ask for those rights, which is against federal law.”
As supporters continued to chant and plea with managers at Burger King to discuss Lewis’s termination, she stepped outside to explain what happened. She says she started talking to other workers about how unions could help get higher wages.
“And then it so happened it got back to the GM manager and she started making threats saying that they were getting their lawyers and that whoever is joining the union is going to get fired.”
She thinks her termination was a direct result of her conversations with other employees and interaction with labor groups.
“Because manager Heather, earlier told me when I called her, she said that it was retaliation against the union as well as she told me that the manager Ms. Andy came in very upset about it.”
No one from Burger King would comment on Lewis’ termination and a spokesperson from the national chain did not return a request for an interview. But in an email response, a corporate media representative wrote, “Burger King Corporation does not make hiring, firing or other employment-related decisions for our franchises." Lewis said she was terminated for tardiness.
“I showed her proof in my phone that I did call her and no one answered. She still put the write up in my file. The write up automatically said termination if I was going to be late again and I didn’t understand where that write-up was coming from. She did not follow the steps. First she was supposed to give me a warning and then it was supposed to be a write-up, then a suspension and then that’s when termination, but I had never even had got suspended or a write-up before this occurred.”
Lewis, as well as the dining room full of supporters, hope standing up to management will inspire other workers to follow suit.
“Everyone wanted to stand up. No one is pretty much happy with their pay, they’re just all scared that they’re going to lose their job.”
And even though there were only about 35 supporters backing Lewis Friday, the organizing groups, which also include the Florida Consumer Action Network, expect there could be larger demonstrations planned at Lewis’ former place of employment. The group entered the Burger King dining room in the midst of the lunch rush, prompting several patrons to ask what was going on. About a half dozen told activists they supported Lewis and hoped she got her job back and one woman even gathered the group outside for a prayer.
The AFL-CIO’s Ponder hopes attention to Lewis’ termination will help garner support for a broader goal of raising the minimum wage.
“The greater goal is hopefully these workers can organize and have a say in their lives and get a decent living where they can take care of their family. This worker who was fired here is a 19-year old woman who has a four-year old daughter. I don’t know how you’re going to raise a child making $7.79 an hour. You know, these people are making billions of dollars for the company and they deserve a fair share and a say.”
The groups are backing a movement that started in Chicago but that has gained national attention called Fight for Fifteen which is calling on states and the federal government to adopt a $15 minimum wage.