Columbia pizza shop strike amid complaints of racism, low pay

·3 min read

Employees at a Columbia pizza restaurant launched a five day strike Friday over complaints of discrimination, low pay and unfair scheduling.

“For the work that we do, we don’t get paid enough at all,” said Naomi Harris, a MOD Pizza employee who helped organize the strike. “We want to put an end to the racism and discrimination in the workplace.”

She and other employees say managers have failed to address complaints. MOD Pizza is based in Seattle.

As the dinner rush began, protesters filled the lobby of the Pelham Drive location around 5 p.m. Four employees walked off the job to chants and cheers, according to a statement from Raise Up, a labor organizing movement that helped coordinate the strike.

MOD Pizza did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Harris said that the decision to go on strike was made after workers felt the fast-casual pizza restaurant had failed to address concerns listed in a recent petition.

Workers initially delivered the petition, signed by nine employees, on July 26. It asked for fair scheduling, a guaranteed 30 hours a week, a $15 minimum wage for all workers and an end to “racism and favoritism in the workplace,” according to a statement put out through Raise Up.

“Management is very disrespectful towards workers of color,” said Rae Evans, a MOD Pizza employee, in a statement provided to The State. “I’ve watched our General Manager yell at my coworker for studying, while her white counterpart is allowed to do school assignments at work. ... White workers get leeway from management while Black workers get constant disrespect.”

The management at the store declined to answer any of The State’s questions.

Preferred morning shifts are overwhelmingly white, said Harris, who described scheduling as an ongoing problem at the store.

Despite being hired with the promise of working 35 to 40 hours a week, Harris said she is regularly only scheduled for eight.

“If you scheduled people the way they want to be scheduled, you wouldn’t have this issue,” Harris told The State.

Naomi Harris, 20, walked out with her coworkers at a Columbia, SC pizza store.
Naomi Harris, 20, walked out with her coworkers at a Columbia, SC pizza store.

While management increased scheduled hours and met with employees following the petition, Harris said that workers of color continued to experience bias and disrespect. As a result, the decision was made to go on strike.

“They pretended like they cared,” said Harris, who got involved with Raise Up after a coworker connected with them on Instagram.

Raise Up is a branch of Fight for $15 — an worker’s advocacy group seeking to raise the national minimum wage to $15 and hour.

In July, Raise Up helped coordinate a strike at a Dollar General in Holly Hill. Employees at the nation-wide discount retailer walked out over complaints of under short staffing, unpaid work and dangerous working conditions that made the store a frequent target for robberies.

Founded in 2008, MOD Pizza had 500 stores in 2021, according to a press release.

Harris plans to return to her job as a substitute teacher at Congaree Elementary School in the fall, but hopes that the gains made by their organizing efforts will not be lost.

“The issue is much deeper than me,” said Harris. “Just because I leave it’s not gonna stop. It’s going to keep going. So it’s not really about me. It’s about the people who have to work there after me.”