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WNC Workers Protest For Higher Pay

Workers rally for higher wages outside the Hardees in Marion.

This week marks 12 years since the federal minimum wage was last raised. To mark the occasion, workers in Western North Carolina and across the country hit the streets, calling on low-wage employers to take action. BPR’s Helen Chickering reports.  

“Thirty-two million Americans out there that need $15 an hour!”

That's Nathan Ruggles, an Amazon Driver from Candler, speaking out with  low wage workers at a strike rally outside the Hardees in Marion. .Ruggles says he left a string of low paying job when Amazon boosted its minimum to $15/hour.

"I understand how important it is to have $15, “says Ruggles. “It's essential for me to raise my kids. It's   

Credit Sam Stites
Nathan Ruggles, an Amazon Driver from Candler speaks out with  low wage workers at a strike rally outside the Hardees in Marion.

extremely frustrating that North Carolina has decided to be in the bottom ten of states that have not        raised the minimum wage at all"

The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 since July 24, 2009.

Tuesday’s strike and worker-led rally was held by NC Raise Up, a branch of Fight for $15, which represents underpaid workers who are fighting for $15 an hour and union rights.  Similar rallies were held in Durham, Charlotte and Fayetteville and a number of cities across the country.

“One, two, three, four! Greedy bosses pay no more!”  workers chanted as they marched with their signs. “Five, six, seven, eight! Want a union! We won’t wait!”

“Even as cities, states and corporations across the country have raised wages to $15 an hour, millions of Black and brown workers, particularly in the South, have been left behind because of racist preemption laws that block local governments from boosting pay and the U.S. Senate’s failure to act on $15,” reads a statement from the news release sent by NC Raise Up.

In addition, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed the state’s minimum wage preemption law in 2016 as part of the controversial HB2 or “bathroom bill.” Though the portion of that law that enshrined discrimination against transgender people has been overturned, the minimum wage preemption provision is still in place today, according to the release.

According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator,  $16.90 per hour is the minimum needed in Buncombe County for a single adult without any children to pay for their basic needs. This doesn’t take into account the area’s rising housing costs.  

Nathan Ruggles talks with BPR's Helen Chickering about the protest rally and how a raise in pay has impacted his life.


Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.