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Area Fast-Food Workers Protest For $15-An-Hour Wage


Lee, Mara

August 30, 2013

When Jasmine Crespo, who works at a Subway in Manchester, was promoted to shift leader, there was no bump in her paycheck.

"I did it thinking I was getting a raise. That's what I was told," said Crespo, who is scheduled for 35 to 39 hours a week. She said closing the store is a lot of work.

She had gotten a 75-cent raise from the state's minimum wage of $8.25 after five months on the job. She said publicity about an increase in the Connecticut minimum wage to $9 in 2015 inspired the raise, which was given to all employees.

She picketed her restaurant Thursday morning, along with about 15 other fast-food workers from the Hartford area, as part of a movement comprising 60 cities around the country. Earlier this summer, about 2,200 fast-food workers protested in seven cities.

Crespo said she's not sure the demands for $15 an hour will change anything. "We won't get $15, but we'll settle for anything that's more than $8.25 or $9," she said. "Maybe $11 or $12?"

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says half of the workers at fast-food restaurants in Connecticut earned less than $9.38 an hour last year.

The owner of the restaurant where Crespo works did not respond to a request for comment.

The workers, about 110 people in all, were joined by union employees, politicians and activists at the Old State House in Hartford. The crowd chanted slogans such as "This is what democracy looks like" and "Dignity! Respect! More money in our checks!"

Erica Dickerson, 27, of Vernon, joined the group as she was walking by with her 6-year-old son. Dickerson said her last job was cleaning rooms at the DoubleTree hotel for $8.25 an hour one day a week, and she was laid off in May. She recently moved to Connecticut from Chicago, where she worked part-time at Foot Locker for less than minimum wage, though she got a $20 commission every time she sold a pair of shoes. On average, she got $140 in her paycheck every two weeks, she said.

Dickerson said she knows how hard it is to pay for bills and to meet a child's needs on the minimum wage. She recently finished training to be a nurse's aide and said she hopes to find more stable work.

The protesters marched from the Old State House to a Subway in downtown Hartford, where all five of the workers behind the counter declined to walk out and join them.

Office workers on their lunch breaks looked on with curiosity. The majority had not followed the news about the fast-food workers' protests.

Marion Bravo, 29, an insurance claims processor, said she supported their efforts, though her friend laughed in shock at the $15 request -- that's about what they make.

Bravo, who has frequently worked two jobs, said the restaurant workers deserve at least $11 or $12 an hour. "They work hard like everybody else," she said.

Jaclyn Ricks, 26, an administrative assistant, asked what the crowd was doing, and when she learned it was a fast-food workers' protest, she said, "Oh, nice."

She said the demand for $15 "is a good idea, because they work hard and they should make more than minimum wage."

But others had mixed feelings.

Dennis Ford, who was eating lunch at that Subway, said $15 is double the minimum wage. "You got to be kidding me," he said. "They won't get it.

"Of course, $7.25 an hour (the national minimum wage) is not enough to get by on. I understand where they're coming from." He said people need to earn at least $10 an hour.

"Some of these people running these franchises are making a fortune and don't want to share," he said.

The owner of the Asylum Avenue Subway, where Ford was eating and the protesters swarmed, did not return a request for comment.

Bill Hofferth, a bookkeeper from Cromwell, said employees should be paid what they're worth, and low wages in unskilled jobs motivate people to get more schooling or training to move up. But he said he understands from the workers' point of view the minimum wage is too low to make ends meet.

While a few restaurants in target cities shut down temporarily because they had too few employees, most fast-food workers did not join the movement.

The experience of Essi Assignon, an employee of Dunkin' Donuts on the same block as the Subway, might help explain why.

Assignon didn't know about the walkout, even though it passed by the window during her shift. She's busy, she said, attending classes in the morning, working on a medical assisting certificate and working afternoons for $8.25 an hour.

She's been at the restaurant for more than a year.

"I ask every time for a raise, but nothing," she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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