National workers' strike hits Tampa Dunkin' Donuts

12/05/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Dunkin Donuts, minimum wage, wages, poverty, labor, unions, strike, Fast Food Strike


Four striking workers and more than twenty supporters waved signs in front of a Busch Blvd. Dunkin Donuts demanding higher wages for fast food employees.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Fast food workers in 100 cities across the country walked off their jobs Thursday as part of a national push to raise the federal minimum wage. Four Dunkin' Donuts employees told managers at a restaurant on East Busch Boulevard in Tampa they were going on strike until the franchise agreed to pay higher wages.

One of the workers is Brittany Wilkerson. She’s been working at that Dunkin' Donuts location for eight months making the federal minimum wage -- $7.79. But for two years prior to that Wilkerson worked at another Dunkin' Donuts in Connecticut making $9 an hour and she says the cost of living between the two places isn’t all that different. Wilkerson asked managers for a raise.

“They just kind of say, ‘stick in there; you never know what may happen; you’re a good worker and we would love to keep you.’ They’ll say anything to try to put a smile on your face at that moment. I even had one of the bosses – come in personally and tell me I was getting a raise and that was about two months ago.”

Wilkerson lives in a multi-person household where everyone is expected to chip in for expenses. When she heard about a local group joining a campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour she decided to do her part.

“It’ll keep kids from going straight from high school to the streets; it’ll have them going to college. It’ll support households. It’ll put food on tables. It’ll do a whole lot for a whole lot of people. You know, public assistance – the rate of that will probably go down. So, I see a lot of benefits with it, we’ve just got to get everybody else on board.”

After Wilkerson and three of her colleagues told managers at Dunkin' Donuts they were striking Thursday morning just before 6, they joined about 25 supporters on the sidewalk to wave signs at passing traffic. Chanting things like “fight for fifteen” and “$7.79 has got to go” many passing cars honked and waved at the group. The support softened one striker’s jitters. LaShonna-Kyrell Delgardo worries her job may not be there when the strike is over.

“With Florida being a right to work state they can make up anything. It would be because of this because those of us who are participating are strong workers. There is no other reason for them to come at us, but if that is what happens this is why and they can say anything and we’ll be out of jobs.”

In a speech yesterday, President Barack Obama said raising the federal minimum wage needs to be a priority and this group agrees. Supporters say it would improve the economy by increasing buying power and limiting government aid. But critics of raising the minimum wage argue it would suffocate business. Some argue low wage workers should just find higher paying jobs. But Both Delgardo and Wilkerson hold certificates in specialty fields. Wilkerson is trained in Microsoft Technology and massage therapy, but she says there just aren’t openings in those fields.

“As long as this technology is going to keep growing, keep moving, keep expanding. They don’t just stop there once you get certified. By the time you get certified, the next great thing has already come out so then you have to go back and get recertified for that.”

Delgardo is a certified EKG technician and phlebotomist – that means she take pictures of a patient’s heart and draw their blood. But she says there weren’t any job openings when she completed her training which left her stuck at Dunkin' Donuts.

“With my hours and my schedule being so awkward, I really don’t have the time to look for anything and even with that, I still wouldn’t be making much more because of how low Tampa pays.”

Delgardo is also striking for the right to unionize. She says she hopes to return to school so she doesn’t get stuck working in the fast food industry for the rest of her life, but,

“For those who don’t have any other skills and they have to work in this industry they need that respect, we need that respect. We need more of a say so, more rights. Right now they can fire us for anything – the littlest things – because the boss doesn’t like you, the fact that you stand up for yourself – the boss and let you go. With the union, it would be harder for them to get away with things like that.”

Scheduling is also an issue. Many fast food restaurants and retailers only offer part-time positions to low wage workers which leaves employees without access to healthcare. For Delgardo that hasn’t been a problem. She has a two year old daughter and qualifies for Medicaid. Wilkerson, the striking worker from Connecticut, doesn’t. She’s a single woman with no children who makes below the federal poverty level. If the state of Florida had accepted federal funds to expand Medicaid, people like Wilkerson would have qualified. But now those individuals are not only left out of Medicaid, they also aren’t able to qualify for subsidized private insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

“Since I started working there, I recently found out I am a diabetic and since I don’t have any medical insurance I have to pay for medicine or to be seen by a doctor out of pocket. That’s been very crucial for me. I don’t qualify for certain insurance so, I’m still looking.”

In addition to support from the President and many Washington Democrats, the fight to minimize poverty has also garnered support from Pope Francis. In a treatise the Pope wrote that trickle down economics, “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”

An emailed statement from Dunkin' Donuts said, “Dunkin' Donuts restaurants are owned and operated by individual franchisees who are responsible for making their own business decisions such as hours of operation, employee wages and the benefits they offer their employees. They are required to comply with all state, federal and local laws.”

Here are photos from a strike later in the day by WMNF volunteer Kim DeFalco.

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