Why Memphis Fast Food Employees Went on Strike: One Woman's Story

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Fast food workers with Fight for $15 and a Union in Memphis joined about 100 others earlier this week from St. Louis and Tampa in a strike to protest against unsafe working conditions amid the COVID-19 outbreak.


Tiffany Lowe, an employee at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken, participated in this week’s strike, saying that the current working conditions and lack of protection for workers is “sickening.”


Employees from McDonald’s, Checkers, and Burger King in the three cities also joined the strike.


Lowe said typically employees rally in front of the restaurant, but amid concerns of coronavirus, she and four other coworkers participated in the strike by staying at home on Tuesday.


“Since we are essential workers, we figured that was the way to get people’s attention,” Lowe said. “I’m frustrated, angry, and confused as to why a multi-billion dollar corporation such as KFC wouldn’t give us the things we need to survive like hazard pay, healthcare, and paid sick leave. I mean if they want to call us essential employees then they should make us feel essential, treat us like human beings, and give us what we deserve.”


Lowe worries if she gets sick and cannot work, she won’t be able to support herself: “If I get sick, who’s going to pay for my medical bills? Who’s going to pay for my medicine? I shouldn’t have to rely on the government and taxpayer money. The corporations should pay for it.”


Additionally, Lowe said her and other employees are demanding to have protective gear such as face masks and gloves on the job.


“I have a son with an immune deficiency disease and I’m afraid one day I’ll bring home the virus to him and he’s not going to be able to fight it off,” Lowe said.


Lowe said the company is also putting customers at risk, as employees who are sick are likely to still show up work even if they are sick.


“This job is the only source of income for a lot of us,” she said. “So without working, how would they survive? Some people might come if they’re sick, putting people’s lives at risk.”

In a memo to guests from last month, Kevin Hochman, president of KFC U.S., assured that the corporation is “focused on taking care of our team members .”


“We’ve been providing them with frequent guidance so they can keep themselves and their families safe,” Hochman said. “Team members who feel sick are staying at home, and rest assured, we’re committed to paying our company-owned restaurant team members for their scheduled or regularly scheduled hours if they are required to self-quarantine or they cannot work because a restaurant temporarily closes. We’ll continue to support our teams 24/7.”


However, Lowe does not work at a company-owned store, but a franchise. She says she has been working at KFC for three years and is only making $8 an hour and is supporting four children, ranging in age from 5 to 18.


KFC is valued at $8.5 billion as of May 2019, according to Forbes. While the average pay for a KFC team member is $9.38 an hour, according to Payscale.com. That equals a little less than $20,000 a year.


“It’s very hard as it is,” Lowe said. “Sometimes I don’t have gas, sometimes I don’t have food, and sometimes I’m not able to get my kids the things they need.”


At the end of the day, Lowe said this pandemic has highlighted the need for fast-food workers’ pay to be raised to $15 an hour, an effort she has personally been fighting for for seven years: “We’re the essential people now. People are depending on us now. And we still aren’t getting paid enough. We need it now. What’s the hold-up?


“They still don’t care. We matter. It’s a multi-billion corporation and it’s no reason for me to be making $8 an hour. Give us what we deserve.”


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