I recently met Willietta Dukes, a mother of two and fast-food employee in Durham, North Carolina. Willietta makes $7.85 at Burger King, despite 16 years of experience in the fast-food industry. In August, tired of struggling to get by, she walked off her job, just a month after losing her home because she could no longer afford rent payments. Despite working hard for as many hours as she gets from Burger King, Willietta is forced to rely on food stamps just to make ends meet.
Willietta is not alone. Research released this week finds that more than half – 52% – of fast-food workers nationwide are paid so little that the public needs to provide assistance to make sure workers can afford basic, everyday needs. In other words, fast-food employees are twice as likely as other workers to be forced to rely on programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) or Medicaid.
These low wages paid by fast-food companies cost Americans close to an astonishing $7 billion annually, according to the report. In North Carolina alone, 54% of fast-food employees are forced to rely on public assistance to survive, costing NC taxpayers $264 million annually.
There was a crowd of about 10,000 in DC yesterday on the mall and at the Capitol to push for comprehensive immigration reform. The protests came as most attention in Congress was focused on the standoff over the partial government shutdown and the partisan disputes over health care and fiscal policy, pushing immigration to the side.
Eight members of the House of Representatives were arrested: Joseph Crowley and Charles B. Rangel of New York, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Al Green of Texas, Luis V. Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona and John Lewis of Georgia. More than 150 other protesters, many from labor unions and immigrant organizations, were also arrested after they sat down and linked arms in the same street. I was among the 200 or so protesters participating in civil disobedience.
We got out of jail at 3:00 in the morning after going in shortly after 5:00 pm. We are not sure if the government shutdown is to blame, but we did hear Capitol Police say that while they are on the job, it's unclear if they will get paid. But they were friendly and we do believe the event helped advance the cause at this critical juncture.
For all the trouble they caused this session, it seems the leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly lacked a certain amount of inventiveness. Almost every bill they introduced was already being considered, or was law, somewhere else.
Case in point, during their final hours in Raleigh, the General Assembly passed a foolish bill requiring those applying for public assistance to pass a drug test before they can become eligible for assistance. This unconstitutional idea has been tried before in other states, and it makes no more sense here than it did when it was first implemented – and failed miserably – in Florida.
In 2010, Florida became the first state to pass and fully implement a bill mandating mandatory drug testing of all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The law mandated that all applicants pay for the cost of the drug test themselves, and that they be reimbursed if their test came back negative. The law was in effect for a mere four months before the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit and a federal court blocked the law, saying it was unconstitutional.
Nearly two years later, the New York Times released the most comprehensive data yet on how the law fared during the short period of time it was in effect. We already knew that the law was a failure; what we didn't know was just how much of a failure it was.
Two words that will make almost any homeowner cringe: "eminent domain," the ability of a government to seize private property, usually land, for improvement of some kind. Though typically used for expanding roads and installing sidewalks in a neighborhood, one community in CA is using it to save homes.
Action NC members visited Sen. Hagan to urge her to support this game-changing move.