Low-wage workers share stories of struggle with Durham city leaders

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Low-wage workers, many who work in the fast-food industry, shared their stories of struggle with city leaders in Durham on Thursday night.

Organized by Raise Up NC, the event titled "Working in Durham: A People's Hearing" held at the Lyon Park recreation center gave workers the chance to voice their stories.

"I suffered from a lot of burns dealing with a lot of faulty and old equipment," said Nigel Wiggins, who described his experience at one fast-food restaurant.

"Eleven years I've been with this company off and on, and I finally decided it was enough. I couldn't do it," said Dee Fearington in reference to his experience working at a recycling company.

The event was moderated by two fast-food workers, with speakers touching on a variety of issues - from low wages to wage theft to sexual harassment.

"My story is not unique; there are thousands of working people in Durham whose lives are literally being put in jeopardy by a minimum wage law that allows billion-dollar companies to pay poverty wages," said Wanda Coker, a manager at a fast-food chain.

"I work two jobs, I still struggle. With the $9.50 (at my fast-food job) and my other job, because it's still not enough. I don't get health insurance, anything extra I don't get," added Cierra Brown, one of the two moderators.

The minimum wage in North Carolina is $7.25, which is the federal minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has remained the same since 2009, the longest amount of time without a raise in US history.

The decade-plus gap without a raise comes in the face of growing affordability concerns in the Triangle. The median home value in the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area was $177,000 in November 2009; last month it topped $251,000, according to real estate company Zillow.

"There are many people in our city that will be going to sleep tonight, or will be staying up while we're sleeping, working jobs, making a wage that cannot sustain their life, let alone if they have a family in this city," said Durham City Council Member Mark-Anthony Middleton.

Earlier this year, the Durham City Council voted to increase the minimum pay for city-workers, but Middleton explained they face legal obstacles in mandating privately-owned businesses in the city to do the same.

"We can ask questions about your hiring practices, we can certainly ask questions about what you pay workers. And hopefully, the world will spread throughout this region, throughout this country, that if you want to do business in Durham, there are certain expectations and values that will make you a much more welcome addition," Middleton explained.

Organizers of the event say they invited fast food representatives and the Chamber of Commerce to the event, but neither attended

Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have enacted higher minimum wages than the federal minimum wage. Six states and Washington, D.C. have enacted measures for a $15 minimum wage in the future.
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