North Carolina minimum wage workers now deemed 'essential' plead for higher pay amid COVID-19 risks

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Wearing a mask when out in public may be uncomfortable for some of us, but imagine wearing it all day long at work.

Many of those who do wear them get paid less than the rest of us even though we now call them "essential workers."

"It just takes a lot of courage right now to really be out here to try to work," Raleigh worker Rita Blalock told ABC11.

Blalock has been a fast-food worker for 20 years and has spent the last decade as a cook at McDonald's restaurants.

In recent years, she's been among many leading the push locally for a living wage of at least $15 an hour.

"When I was fighting for the 15 before the corona came, people didn't, I guess didn't get it. They didn't understand," Blalock said.

Now, many are no longer just "minimum wage workers" but "essential workers."

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"If we're essential workers, I think that people should open up and pay attention more," said Blalock.

There are some new statistics about essential workers that certainly attention-grabbing.

They were compiled from US Labor Department figures by Business.org, a website for small business owners.

Nationwide workers we now call "essential" make 18.2 percent less than workers in other industries, according to figures.

Minorities, more likely to have jobs that make them 'essential workers,' disproportionately affected by COVID-19

Meanwhile, the stats show that in North Carolina the average worker makes $36,900.

Essential workers make just $29,700.

That's a disparity of 19.6 percent according to Business.org.

Blalock said that means that she and other essential workers are now risking their health and maybe their lives for that much lower wage.

"I'm out here with this epidemic and I feel that I do need to have more money than what I'm getting," she said.

She does realize there are many who have lost their jobs and she said she and other essential workers are certainly glad to have theirs.

"Yes, I feel fortunate that I do still have a job to go to," she said adding that going to work is now frightening, "I do have bills that I've got to pay. So it's been rough but I've been sticking in there."

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So she's hoping that those who don't have to face the pandemic every day to pay their bills will now be more sympathetic and realize the true importance of "essential workers."

"Now that we're really needed, just step on in with us for $15 an hour," she said pleading for support for a higher minimum wage.
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