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Hartford Fast Food Workers Join National Strike

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Fast food workers rally at the Old State House with supporters including members of the Connecticut Working Families Party, representatives of various unions, and Democrats.  They were calling for a $15 per hour wage for fast food workers. Photo by WTIC's Matt Dwyer.

Fast food workers rally at the Old State House with supporters including members of the Connecticut Working Families Party, representatives of various unions, and Democrats. They were calling for a $15 per hour wage for fast food workers. Photo by WTIC’s Matt Dwyer.

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SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

PHOTO GALLERY

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — About a dozen workers at fast food restaurants in Hartford left their jobs Thursday to join a national one-day strike for better wages, saying they’re struggling to make ends meet.

James Goolsby, 24, a striker who works at a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Hartford, has worked a total of seven years for Subway and earns $9 an hour. With a baby boy due in two months, the expectant father said he’s nervous about his financial future.

“I don’t want to try to raise a kid struggling. My mom raised five kids by herself. I’m not trying to go through the struggles that she went through,” said Goolsby, one of two workers from his restaurant that walked off the job Thursday. Others backed out after the boss started asking questions about the strike, he said.

A frustrated Goolsby said he decided to participate in the strike in hopes something will change.

“When you look at it — it’s a bad thing — but that dude standing outside selling drugs is making more than what I’m bringing home,” Goolsby said. “I’m here six days a week, one day off a week, giving you 40 hours a week and I’m bringing home not even $300. It’s a waste of my time. I’m dedicating myself to what?”

Hartford was one of at least 50 cities around the country where walkouts were planned in the biggest coordinated action ever by fast food workers. A series of strikes began in November in New York City that later spread to other cities. The workers are calling for the right to unionize without retaliation and $15 an hour wages. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 annually for full-time workers.

In a statement, Connecticut Restaurant Association Executive Director Nicole Griffin said the majority of restaurant employees in Connecticut earn more than the state’s minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, among the highest in the nation. She said most industry workers are “students with irregular schedules, teenagers saving for school or parents and caregivers who need a job with flexible hours that fit their busy lives.”

“We are happy to have a conversation about fair wages in this country, but it needs to be based on facts and the facts show that the restaurant industry pays a fair wage,” Griffin said.

Strikers in Hartford were joined by local clergy, elected officials, union leaders and community organizers at a rally held at the Old State House, as well as noisy demonstrations at several restaurants, including the Subway where Goolsby works, where customers appeared confused by the commotion. State Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, told the manager and workers inside the Subway that the strikers have job protections under federal labor law and should not be retaliated against when they return to work.

“We are all here to protect you,” Ritter told the workers behind the counter, some still taking sandwich orders.

Monica Tomlinson, a 28-year-old single mother, acknowledged she was nervous about walking out on her job at a Hartford Dunkin’ Donuts. But after working for the company for 10 years and struggling to pay her bills and raise her 7-year-old son, Tomlinson said she felt like she had to speak up.

“This is a big decision for me, to come out and do this,” she said, amid chants of “make my wages supersize” and “we can’t survive on $8.25.” ”I could risk losing my job.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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