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Taco Bell staff walk out of Kansas City restaurant: 'We wanted to be treated like human beings'

A woman shouts into a microphone at a podium outdoors near a Taco Bell restaurant. She is surrounded by other people rallying with her.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Fran Marion, a shift leader at the Taco Bell restaurant at 8214 Wornall Rd., gives an impassioned speech after she and three other employees walked out in protest Thursday.

Employees at the Taco Bell on Wornall Road staged a walkout in the middle of lunch Thursday, shutting down the store and rallying for a union and higher wages.

Taco Bell employees at one Kansas City restaurant walked off the job Thursday to protest conditions at the store.

Shift leader Fran Marion, who has worked at the 8215 Wornall location for a year, says the group chose to strike just before Labor Day to call attention to abusive customers, short staffing, lack of paid sick days, disrespectful management and low wages.

“A job shouldn’t be this difficult to come to and clock in and try to make a wage, not even a living wage,” she said.

Four workers stepped out of the restaurant at 12:30, in the middle of the lunch rush, to a cheering crowd from the workers' rights organization Stand Up KC. They taped a sign to the door: “Closed due to STRIKE”!

During the 30-minute protest, supporters in the restaurant’s parking lot had to turn away vehicles who tried to enter.

Marion said the tipping point for her and other employees was an incident two weeks ago where equipment malfunctioned and flooded the floor of the restaurant.

“There was literally standing water throughout the store,” she said.

Marion and other employees tried to close the doors to customers for safety reasons. She said she was later written up for insubordination by her general manager for closing the store without asking first.

KCUR attempted to reach DRG, the company that owns this Taco Bell franchise, for comment, but they did not respond by press time.

 Reflection of a person taking a photo of a red sign with handwritten message: CLOSED due to STRIKE!
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A protestor takes a photo graph of the sign that Taco Bell workers taped to the Wornall Road store before walking out Thursday.

Terrence Wise, another shift leader at the store and a member of Stand Up KC, was not working Thursday but attended the rally.

“We wanted something that had nothing to do with money or union rights,” Wise said. “We want respect and that’s what we’ve been dealing with at this Taco Bell: a lot of lack of respect.”

Wise said workers have been belittled by management and customers, and have received racist comments.

Wise, who has worked in fast food for nearly 20 years, said these conditions are not unique to this store but rather are endemic in the industry.

“Those are things we don’t need legislation passed for,” he said. “We want 15 (dollars an hour). We want a union. But most importantly, we wanted to be treated like human beings and we want to be respected on the job.”

Wise said the rally also urged Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to support legislation similar to a bill that passed in the California Assembly on Monday, raising the minimum wage to $22 an hour by 2024. Wise said he hopes California Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign the bill.

Minimum wage in Missouri currently stands at $11.15.

Parson has asked legislators to pass a $15 minimum wage for state workers, although not private employees. His request stalled in the General Assembly earlier this year.

Thursday’s protest follows in the wake of Starbucks workers voting to unionize at several area locations. Taco Bell employees said they are mulling a similar idea.

Last year, McDonald’s workers in Kansas City and across the country staged a one-day strike to demand higher wages at franchised restaurants.

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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