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STL Can't Survive On 7.35 - Did The Campaign Bring About Change?

Erin Williams

This spring, fast food workers from across the country began banding together and rallying for better wages, fair treatment, and a healthier workplace. The movement began to swell, and in May the ‘STL Can’t Survive On 7.35’ campaign hit the region. Employees staged walkouts, passed out flyers, and marched the street in an effort to educate the public and command attention. The idea of protest may seem initially enticing, but is it worth risking your job?

19 year old Jasmine Pendelton earned $7.45 an hour as an employee at McDonald’s on Ferguson and West Florissant As a cashier, cook, server, and meal preparer, Pendleton handles multiple responsibilities and is expected to fill in when necessary. Prior to the campaign, things hadn’t been great on the job, she says. “They were just treating us so poorly and badly. We were getting disrespected every day, talked to like we were nothing, we weren’t getting our hours, we weren’t getting anything.”

Things weren’t much better at Arby’s on Lindell Boulevard, where 27 year old Brittany Scott is employed. She works the front line and makes $7.35 an hour.

“Well, before the campaign, I was treated by crap by my coworkers.  I had one manager that would talk to me, made me feel bullied, and we didn’t like that,” she says.

Both women heard of the campaign through outside sources that came to the restaurant and asked them to sign a petition. They say their desire to advocate for others is what compelled them to get involved and join other supporters on May 9. They marched in the streets in the rain, carried signs, and chanted outside of McDonald’s, Arby’s and Pizza Hut between Whittier Street and Vandeventer Avenue.

Pendelton says that some still couldn’t understand why the employees would want to protest for a raise.

“We’re wanting $15 an hour to provide a better stable home and a better stable life for our children and families that’s out here. We want to be able to go to work, make our money, and come home and be able to pay our bills without struggling. Be able to take your child to the store without struggling. Making $735 you cannot do that – period.”

But the demonstration was worth it for both women. Community leaders walked employees back to work and advocated on their behalf if they received pushback. According to Martin Rafanan, who helped organize the St. Louis campaign, none of the restaurant workers who participated in the local protest lost their jobs – or had their hours cut.  Pendelton and her fellow employees will receive promotions and raises, but Scott, on the other hand, almost saw her hours cut. She was walked back to her job by community supporters, wanting to know why her name was scratched off the schedule to work that day when she had been given the hours before the protest.

“I got more respect on the job after that day, after that strike,” she says. “ I’ve got a better rapport with my managers now, and with coworkers now, and I feel the need to speak up for myself, now that I’ve been heard.”

Both women want others to know that the cause goes beyond just their personal needs, however.

“We’re out here trying to survive. We’re out here trying to make a livable wage – we’re risking out jobs for everybody – not just for us, but for the whole community. It’s for the world.”

We reached out to managers at both Arby’s and McDonald’s to talk about the women’s complaints and concerts but they chose not to comment for this story.

Since the May protest, the campaign has seen uprisings in Detroit, Milwaukee, Washington D.C. and Seattle. Supporters of the St. Louis campaign are still continuing to lobby for support through social media and spreading the word about the nationwide 7.35 campaign.

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