ST. PETERSBURG — Debbie Singleton hesitated Thursday before she put on her Hardee's uniform.
Singleton, 52, who works as a team leader at one of the fast food chain's Tampa restaurants, didn't want to risk wearing her uniform when she joined the sign-toting flock of protestors who gathered outside the 34th Street Hardee's in St. Petersburg to protest President Trump's nomination of Andrew Pudzer as Secretary of Labor.
The protestors support a $15 minimum wage — a measure which has been denounced by Pudzer, the former CEO of CKE Restaurants, owner of fast food chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr.
Singleton decided to wear her uniform to the protest anyway.
"You put on the TV and see Pudzer's face," she said. "I want people to see my face."
About two dozen protestors inspired honks from passing vehicles as they chanted "Hey hey! Ho ho! Andrew Pudzer's got to go!" and "Can't survive on $8.05!"
St. Petersburg protest was one of 31 cities where protestors gathered outside Hardee's and Carl's Jr.'s locations a week prior to Pudzer's Feb. 2 confirmation hearing.
Fight for $15, a minimum-wage advocacy group which organized the protests, also said that it filed 33 complaints from current and former workers at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's alleging wage theft, sexual harassment and unfair worker practices with state and national organizations.
A spokesman for Fight for $15 said three of the complaints are from the Tampa Bay region and were filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Fight for $15 also released a statement from Ceatana Cardona, a 28-year-old Hardee's employee in Tampa, who said she filed a sexual harassment complaint over an incident that she said occurred at the restaurant where she works.
"Several months ago my shift-manager asked me for a kiss, and when I said no he told me that unless I started giving him what he wanted, he was going to start taking it," Cardona said in the statement. "But when I complained, they took no action against my shift-manager.
"Andy Puzder has said he'd like to replace his workers with robots because they don't file sexual harassment claims. Well, I'm no robot, and he's absolutely right I'll hold his restaurant accountable if they don't protect me or my co-workers."
In an interview with Business Insider last year, Pudzer said machines were "always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case." However, he later published an op-ed saying that quote was taken out of context and that he did not intend to replace workers with machines.
Lashanda Mitchell, 28, who works at the St. Petersburg restaurant, said she and her co-workers also fear automation could cost them their jobs. That's why she brought her 6-month-old daughter Liberty to the protest.
"I'm barely making it ...," the mother said. "It's only right we're able to live comfortably for what we're working."
Carla Bristol, 48, a small business owner in St. Petersburg who attended the demonstration, said it's important for employers to speak out for workers' rights.
"As you grow and if you have employees, like Hardee's, it's important you have actual employees and not just workers," she said. "When you pay someone that low, you just have workers ...
"When you eat a sandwich you take one bite at a time, and this is just a step toward taking that bite."
Another protest is set to take place next week at a Hardee's location in Tampa. The company did not return a call for comment.
Singleton said she looks forward to putting on her Hardee's uniform every morning and catching the bus to work after seeing her 11th grade daughter off to school.
"A lot of people say why don't you find another job if you're unhappy," Singleton said. "But why should I find another job? I love what I do. I love the customers. I love the people I work with. And I do it with a smile. But I'm tired of struggling."
Singleton said she hadn't heard about Pudzer until she got involved with Fight for $15. Then she started researching him on Google and was unhappy with what she learned.
"Here I am barely making it," she said. "He doesn't care about people."
Contact Divya Kumar at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @divyadivyadivya.