Wage Fight Propels KFC Worker To White House

From frying chicken to firing up the debate

Fast Food Crusader
APNaquasia LeGrand.

NEW YORK (AP) – Naquasia LeGrand was frying chicken, sweeping floors and serving customers for $7.25 an hour when she was recruited by union organizers to join a campaign for higher pay.

In the 15 months since, the 22-year-old KFC employee from Brooklyn has become one of the most visible faces of a movement that has staged strikes across the country demanding a $15-an-hour wage and union representation for fast-food workers.

She promoted the cause on "The Colbert Report," joined a strategy session with congressional Democrats and visited President Barack Obama at the White House.

"We never thought it would even get this far," LeGrand said. "We're just sick and tired of being sick and tired."

When LeGrand was first approached by organizers of the group Fast Food Forward, her grandmother told her to stay away from unions. "She just heard 'union' and thought maybe, like, I was going to lose my job or something."

"But you know, sometimes kids don't listen to their grandmas."

Her life has been a whirlwind since. She started organizing small fast-food protests and flash strikes in the city, and eventually in more than 100 cities across the country. A newspaper profile of her led to the Jan. 16 appearance on "Colbert," and that led to her trip to Washington.

Naquasia LeGrand
Flickr/David SeatonLeGrand on "The Colbert Report."
She laughed when host Stephen Colbert asked, "Are you at all afraid the colonel might come after you?"

But she stuck to her talking points.

"I worked at two KFCs and still couldn't make it," she told him. "These corporations are making billions and billions of dollars," she added later.

"It's an opportunity for me to represent all of the workers around the country," she said in an interview last week. "So I got to make sure I do things right, make sure I get our message out there, what we want, what's our demands and, you know, set it straight."

While these have indeed been heady days, the reality for LeGrand is as close as her next shift at KFC, where she tries to make enough to get by in one of the nation's most expensive cities.

Six feet tall with cheeks that dimple when she smiles, LeGrand was interviewed near the two-bedroom apartment in Canarsie she shares with her grandmother and other family members. She said she was tired after closing the store at 1:40 a.m. and making it home at around 4 a.m. thanks to a complicated subway commute.

Most weeks LeGrand works just 15 hours. She had a second job at another KFC but it closed, so now she has lots of time for organizing other fast-food employees.

"The first thing I ask them is 'What's your biggest issue?'" LeGrand said. "'Talk to me first.'"

Kendall Fells, the organizing director of Fast Food Forward, said LeGrand runs citywide meetings and deserves credit for building much of the campaign in New York.

Last month, LeGrand was invited along with other fast food workers to watch as Obama signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay $10.10 an hour.

"I don't care if I was in the back, I was in the White House with the president in front of me!" she said.

She also attended the House Democratic Retreat in Cambridge, Md., and spoke at a workshop on raising the minimum wage moderated by Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

"Movements will throw up leaders," Ellison said. "This low-wage worker movement has thrown up Naquasia."

Fast Food Crusader
APLeGrand on a subway, leaving her home in the Carnarsie section of Brooklyn to her KFC job in Manhattan.

Restaurant industry representatives say the campaign's demands are unrealistic. "Economics won't allow for a $15-an-hour wage," said Jay Perron, vice president of government affairs and public policy for the International Franchise Association, which represents franchise owners.

Perron would not address LeGrand's specific situation but said entry-level fast food jobs can lead to something better.

"These jobs can turn into really good, high-paying jobs if you go from an hourly worker to a manager," he said.

KFC spokesman Rick Maynard said franchisees pay competitive wages and provide training and development so employees have an opportunity to build their careers.

Backers of Fast Food Forward say the chance to advance in the industry is minuscule. The National Employment Law Project, citing data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, says just 2.2% of jobs in the fast food industry are in managerial, professional, or technical occupations.

LeGrand said she likes serving people but never planned a career at KFC.

She once thought of studying graphic design but now sees herself more as an organizer. She even won over her once-skeptical grandmother, who now proudly introduces LeGrand as "my granddaughter, the activist."

"I have a good way of talking to people," LeGrand said. "So maybe that's why the movement kind of worked out. I talk too much."

> Top 10 Companies Hiring This Week

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
Whad Up Girl!

$15 Net would be good. $15 gross, after taxes, UNION FEES which will increase, you'll still up struggling.

April 12 2014 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

She wants $15 an hour for frying chicken, sweeping floors and serving customers? Really? Gimme a break! The minimum wage should be $0, and let the free market decide was your wages should be. Unions destroy everything they touch, we don't need them! If the min wage is $15, everything else will go up to offset those costs. Don't you get it?

March 06 2014 at 11:40 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

you think your gone make more and pay the same or less WRONG all product and service are gone go up to off set the new MIM WAGE the standard of living will go up to meet your higher MIM WAGE INCREASE and wa la your right back to SQUARE ONE.so ever one that did not receive a mim wage increase are left behind. the president can order it at the federal level but not in the private sector . bottom line is you wont more money from us fine we will just pass it on to the consumer the customer and charge more. now the consumer says hey wait I don't wont to pay more. ill go else were next thing you know OUT OF BUSSINESS . I THINK THIS LADY NEEDS TO RETHINK WHATS SHE ASKING FOR.

March 06 2014 at 7:58 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
moon man

Why stop at $15 an hour? Make it $25 an hour!!! Nobody will have to go to school or waste time in college.

March 06 2014 at 7:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It will never rise to $15 per hour this woman is misguided. You want a job to accept what I pay or move on.

March 06 2014 at 4:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

in and out burgers pay 12 hr w benefits to workers and the company still makes millions of dollars in profits.. ...(Forbes magazine) the owner (woman) is not a greedy person and knows how to run a successful business without modern slavery(if u work at a fast food restaurant, u always have to be moving) and with great wages...and guess what stupid people on here!!!!!...the food is delicious and cheap...do your research WHITE AMERICANS!!!!!!!! The peps who started slavery from the beginning...once again people...HIT THE BOOKS...
thats all thanks!!!!

March 06 2014 at 2:00 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
David Crowe

It's a wonder Obama doesn't fight for you chicken fryers the way him and his family love their fried chicken. I'd be willing to bet if the people that pick watermelons would make $ 25.00 an hour if he had the power to do so.

March 04 2014 at 11:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Crowe

When are these knuckleheads that work at the fast food joints going to learn that they're NOT worth all that money they want ? These are entry level jobs, nothing to make a career doing. If they do want to make it a career then they'll have to go in there and bust their butts and prove they're worthy of a nice taise and someday make it to asst. manager or manager. YOU people don't deserve anything over $ 9.00 an hour. Live with it or get educated.

March 04 2014 at 10:55 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Price yourself right out of a job.

March 04 2014 at 10:37 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Young adults go to college to acquire basic skills in a specified field and are lucky to make 30-40K after graduation most with some sort of debt. Now these untrained and low educated individuals are demand a wage equivalent to that of a college grad, ridiculous. If this is the case then I believe there will be the same conversation around why college grads are making the same as fast food workers and that there should be a pay increase to compensate them for their additional education.

March 04 2014 at 9:21 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web