This week, dozens of fast food workers assembled along a sidewalk in front of a McDonald’s in East Durham to protest sexual harassment in the workplace.

On Wednesday at noon, the workers gathered at the restaurant on Miami Boulevard to demand the fast food corporation pay its workers a living wage.

“What do we want? A union!,” they chanted. “When do we want it? Now!”

“I work at this McDonald’s and I make $9 an hour,” said Desmond Brown, who works at the McDonald’s on Miami Boulevard.  “I work hard, and only making $9 is like they’re spitting in my face. It’s hard to pay my bills. There are medications that I need that cost too much, that Medicaid won’t cover. I want to live better, but I can’t do that on $9 an hour.”

Ending sexual harassment in the workplace was also at the forefront of the workers’ concerns Tuesday.

“Right now, workers are getting sexually harassed and some people are scared to speak out because they feel like they might lose their jobs,” said Rita Blalock, a McDonald’s worker from Raleigh who earns $10 an hour after working with the store for the past 10 years. “A union would help because we would have a voice in our store. It would cut down on sexual harassment because then workers wouldn’t be afraid to speak up if they are getting mistreated. I want to tell McDonald’s to listen to all the workers who have gone through this sexual harassment—listen to them and let them have a say in how to solve the problem.”

Wednesday’s protest in Durham was in concert with #Striketober, described by organizers as a wave of walkouts at McDonald’s locations in 10 cities across the United States, where workers called on the fast food managers “to stamp out workplace sexual harassment and violence,” according to a press release from NC Raise Up/Fight for $15 and a Union.

In addition to fast food employees, the wildcat strike included retail and health care workers who stressed the importance of a union to address issues of sexual harassment, violence and discrimination in the workplace. 

Organizers say Tuesday’s employee walkout marked the fifth time workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union have gone on strike “demanding McDonald’s address its culture of harassment,” according to the press release. 

Organizers point to a similar, 10-city tour in 2018, and claim that protest three years ago was the first strike over sexual harassment in more than 100 years. 

“In a St. Louis suburb, they chanted, ‘Hold your burgers, hold your fries. Keep your hands off my thighs.’ In Chicago, they had blue duct tape that said ‘MeToo’ covering their mouths,” a 2018 New York Times story that chronicled the fast food workers’ reported. “And in Kansas City, Missouri, [workers] held signs bearing the same anti-sexual harassment hashtag with the first letter styled to look like the McDonald’s golden arches.”

“Little has changed since that first strike for McDonald’s frontline workers, who continue to report a widespread harassment problem,” organizers stated in the release. 

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