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I’ve worked in the fast food industry all of my adult life. In over 15 years working fast food jobs in North Carolina, the most I’ve ever made is $8.67 an hour. Today I work at Burger King and I make $7.85. Although I’ve dedicated years of my life to serving people and working hard, I still struggle to make ends meet. Recently my hours were cut down to 28 hours per week, meaning that I take home about $300 each paycheck. I make $11,000 a year, nowhere near enough to support my family – especially now that the state of North Carolina is cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families.

I’ve always know that it isn’t right for a person to work so hard and be paid so little, especially when the people who run fast food corporations are making billions in profits. I never considered myself to be a politically minded person or an activist, but when I started seeing news stories and Facebook posts in July about fast food workers going on strike for better wages, I had to get involved. I started coming to local organizing committee meetings, talking to my coworkers on the job and sharing my story with community leaders.


On August 24th a group of fast food workers from North Carolina joined the state NAACP chapter in Washington, DC to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I felt liberated by the March on Washington. Everywhere around me, as far as I could see, people from all different backgrounds were marching together as one. There were so many people there by the time we arrived that we could not even get close enough to hear the speeches. A big group of people held signs demanding a higher minimum wage. Some held signs against voter suppression laws. I even saw an older white man holding a sign in support of Trayvon Martin.

A few days later, on August 29th, hundreds of fast food workers from over 50 restaurants in Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham and Raleigh joined a nationwide day of strikes by low wage workers, demanding $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. I saw people come from all over to support me and my coworkers’ struggle for a better future. In Durham, a city council member and pastors from three churches came to stand with me at 6am on the strike line in front of my Burger King. In Raleigh, Reverend Barber of the NAACP marched by my side and spoke to me and my fellow fast food employees about the need for all workers to be paid a living wage.

What I learned in the March on Washington and the fast food strike is that the fight for respect and dignity at work is not just my fight. I saw that when people come together to support one another’s struggles, anything is possible. Reverend Barber led us in a chant as we marched from Martin Street Baptist Church to a KFC in downtown Raleigh – “Forward Together, Not One Step Back.” This is what the movement is all about here in North Carolina, just like it was in 1963 during the March on Washington. Every type of American moving forward together as one, never letting ourselves be divided against each other.

Willietta Dukes

Author Willietta Dukes

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