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State workers rally for higher wages and union rights

Kinston protestors

KINSTON, Lenoir County - Organizers call it the "Fight for 15." Fast food workers throughout the country marched in the streets Tuesday.

Organizers said 500 demonstrations were held, including one in Kinston. However, it wasn't fast food workers protesting locally, it was state public service workers who say they are overworked and underpaid.

"We want to take care of our families just like the big people take care of theirs. It's sad that you work for the state and you can't make $30,000 a year," Robbin Patrice Clarke-Hines said.

Clarke-Hines and all of the protesters in Kinston Tuesday work at Caswell Developmental Center, a state-run mental health facility. They're also a part of a public service workers union, UE Local 150. They're demanding pay raises to $15 an hour, adequate staff and equipment on the job that would prevent injuries they say, and union rights. But because North Carolina is a "right to work" state and not unionized, these workers are taking a risk publicly voicing their concerns.

"A lot of folks are scared that once this hits the television ... they gonna get fired," Peggy Price said.

Local officials at Caswell said Tuesday they were unaware of the protest. Alex Lefebvre with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in Raleigh issued this statement.

"All of DHHS carefully complies with all relevant personnel laws and policies in making personnel and compensation decisions."

Concerning pay, workers say $15 an hour would be a good start but even higher pay is actually needed to survive. Many have second jobs. Some of the people we spoke with have been in these jobs for more than 10 years.

According to the union the average wage for state workers right now is $12.25 an hour.


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