Fast Food Fight!

When there are no “good” jobs, you’ve got to make that bad job better.

“I’m not going to lie. I didn’t want to go back,” said Shantel Walker about returning to work at the Papa John’s Pizza in New York City more than a year after being fired for her activism.

Walker clocked back into work, though, as she has done for more than 12 years, because her activism demanded it. She’s a longtime advocate for the Fight for 15 and the basic rights of fast food workers to unionize.

“We wanted to send a message not to retaliate against workers fighting for justice,” she said.

Walker is pushing forward. She and her coworkers want $15 an hour and a union.

Walker came by her activism the hard way. She first made pizza and answered phones at Papa John’s in 1999, and she’s been steadily employed most of the time since 2003. She saw her boss use phony time cards and fire good people for asking for what was owed them. Then the boss fired a young man, and it was too much for Walker to take. She organized a coalition of community members, including faith leaders, to fight back. More than 100 people marched and chanted for justice. Eventually the case went to court.

The former owner of her Papa John’s and eight other stores failed to pay overtime and even created fake employee names on the company’s timekeeping system to conceal the practice. The workers won $230,000 in back pay and the owner was sentenced to jail for 60 days.

Then the stores were sold, and the new owner fired Walker in the spring of 2015.

“She heard I was a troublemaker. I was really going hard in the Fight for 15. That’s all she knew about me,” Walker said.

Walker learned she’d been fired when a coworker told her she’d been taken off the schedule. Walker allowed herself to have a normal weekend, and then she called one of the union organizers from the Service Employees International Union.

It’s crazy talking to Walker, because she wears her heart on her sleeve and works so hard for what seems like so little, at least in the way of pay.

She loves standing up with her coworkers, though, and she takes the bullhorn at pretty much every rally she goes to. She can definitely work up a crowd. She’s got a type of enthusiasm that’s hard to resist, which is probably why a New Yorker story on the Fight for 15 featured several column inches on her call-and-response chants.

What she wants a chance to sit down at a table across from her boss to negotiate pay.

Two years ago, Shantel Walker took part in the AFL-CIO’s National Summit to Raise Wages. I wanted to check in with her and see how she’s been.