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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/30/15

10 Reasons EVERY Employee in America Should Support the Fight for $15

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the architect of the minimum wage, had some things to say in the years leading up to it first becoming law in 1938:

"No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country."

And this:

"By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level -- I mean the wages of a decent living." -- FDR's Statement on National Industrial Recovery Act, 1933

Strike and protest for a $15/hour minimum wage at a McDonalds restaurant
Strike and protest for a $15/hour minimum wage at a McDonalds restaurant
(Image by Fibonacci Blue)
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I've been working fast food and retail since 2008, when "the crash" took nearly everything we had. In 2007 I was making $60,000 a year as a Systems Analyst for one of the big defense contractors; we had a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house in a nice suburban neighborhood; 2 cars; and all the stuff that goes along with a solidly middle-class life.

By May of 2008, we had spent my entire 401K, were both out of work and months behind on the mortgage and utilities, and the only thing coming in was $190 a month in food stamps. By July, we were living in a friend's converted garage; and I was working fast food for minimum wage, bringing in about $175 to $200 a week and taking peanut butter sandwiches for lunch because even at half-price I couldn't afford to buy the food I sold. (And, because we don't have minor children, we no longer qualified for food stamps.)

I grew up in poverty, living on food stamps and scraping by; and I dragged myself out of poverty, going to college, getting a degree and a good job with decent pay. It was hard when I did it, and it's nearly impossible now. Even if every single low wage worker in this country got a college degree, the vast majority would still be trapped because there are thousands more low wage workers than there are jobs that pay a living wage. We already have thousands of people graduating from colleges all across the country, expecting to find a good job and have a better life, only to find that there aren't any jobs available.

So why should you support the "Fight for $15"?

  1. You NEED us -- Low wage workers do jobs that keep society from collapsing. Without us, trucks wouldn't get loaded and unloaded; there wouldn't be anything on the grocery store shelves for you to buy, there wouldn't be anyone to help you find things in the stores, you'd have to bag your own purchases, and there wouldn't be any shopping carts available unless you brought one in from the parking lot; public restrooms, office buildings, stores, hospitals, and nursing homes would be filthy; and you'd have to pack lunches for work every day because there wouldn't be any fast food places for you to grab a quick lunch. You also wouldn't be able to hire a home health care worker, take your child to a day care center, go to a swimming pool with a lifeguard, have your taxes done (without hiring an tax accountant or lawyer,) have your oil changed, or get your emissions certificate for your car. All of these people start out at minimum wage, and earn less than $15 an hour even after working for years.

  2. The vast majority of us are adults, with families and responsibilities -- One of my jobs is in a grocery store. Out of over 150 employees filling positions from courtesy clerks to managers, less than 10 of those employees are still in high school. The Department of Labor statistics show that 88% (88 out of every 100) of us are 20 years old or older. We have rent and utilities, food budgets, medical expenses, child care expenses, transportation expenses, etc; just like you do, and all of these things cost us just as much as they cost you. What we DON'T usually have is sick leave, paid vacation, insurance, a regular schedule, regular (or any) raises, or enough money to live on. Courtesy clerks at my store make minimum wage, whether they've been there 10 days or 10 years, and current policy is that everyone starts as a courtesy clerk. (Company policy also requires that all new hires start off as part-time employees, and that no part-time employee can be scheduled more than 28 hours a week on a regular basis. The union contract also states that there is a 12 hour a week minimum schedule required for all employees, but since January of this year, I've been scheduled a single 4 hour shift multiple weeks.)

  3. When we make more, you make more too -- One of the biggest arguments I hear against raising the minimum wage is, "I don't want someone who is flipping burgers making as much as I do for doing X." I've even heard people say that they don't want minimum wage workers to start off making MORE than they do after working for years, which indicates to me that a lot of people don't really understand what a "minimum wage" IS. If the minimum wage is raised, and you make less than that, your hourly rate has to go up to at least what the new minimum is. It would be against the law for your employer to pay you less than that amount. Even if you make more than the new minimum, your pay will most likely go up, if not immediately, then soon. When the minimum wage is increased, all wages adjust upward to compensate, and the closer to the minimum you are, the more (and the sooner) your pay is likely to increase.

  4. Companies CAN afford to pay us a living wage -- the other big argument against raising the minimum wage is that companies can't afford it. That may be true of small businesses, although in most cases it isn't. However, the corporations that provide over 90% of minimum wage jobs in this country most certainly can afford it. The upper management of those corporations make anywhere from $4000 a week and up, plus bonuses and stock options; and the corporations make millions (or billions) a year in profits. In 2012, the CEO of the corporation I work for made more than 9000 times as much as I did, and the company made $2.3 billion in profits. Not one penny of those profits "trickled down" to the front line workers who made them possible.

  5. We aren't lazy -- most of us work two or more jobs trying to make enough to pay our bills, and still struggle. We also have to make impossible choices like whether to go to the doctor or buy food; or whether to stay home and lose a day's pay or go to work when we're so sick we can barely move and are likely to give whatever we have to our co-workers and customers. We work closing shifts that end after midnight, then turn around and open the next morning at 4 or 5 AM; or leave one job and go directly to the next without ever getting to go home in between.

  6. We're not stupid -- Many of us actually have college degrees, including Masters degrees and PhDs. There are many (adjunct) college professors who have second (minimum wage) jobs because they're contractors paid by the course, not employees given a salary. I have a degree in computer science, and used to work for the IT department of a defense contractor; but after several years of not even being able to get an interview for a job that matches my qualifications, I gave up.

  7. We're not all African Americans or immigrants -- In fact, according to the Department of Labor, 77.9% of us (more than ) are White.

  8. We don't WANT to be on government assistance, we'd much rather work and support ourselves -- Although the majority of minimum wage workers qualify for some type of government assistance, it's not nearly as easy as you think to GET that help. My husband and I were both out of work for a while, with no income at all, and we qualified for less than $200 a month in food stamps. That works out to $1.11 per person per meal when you figure 3 meals a day for 30 days, for 2 people. To get that pathetic amount, we were required to put in a minimum of 15 applications a month for each of us, plus volunteer at an "approved" public facility for a minimum of 15 hours (each) a month. Even figuring 30 minutes per application (and have you EVER been able to fill out an application in 30 minutes?) that works out to 30 hours a month (per person) of required work, before you even start counting the hours of wait time spent at the food stamp office every time you're called in for something, or the cost of transportation to and from your volunteer position and the food stamp office, or the time and transportation costs of wandering all over town putting in applications, or the time it takes to fill out the required monthly paperwork. I was thrilled to get a 40 hour a week job working fast food, because it was easier than getting food stamps, and I had $175 a week to spend, instead of $200 a month. Food stamps have been cut at least twice since we were getting them, so heaven only knows what pitiful amount would be available now . . .

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Wendy is a writer, blogger, and health activist with interests in health, politics, women's issues, and all the areas where these topics intersect.
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