And could any workers need it more? Fifty-two percent of fast-food employees’ families rely on public assistance to put food on the table or to get medical care. McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC - hugely profitable, multibillion dollar corporations - are being subsidized by taxpayers to the tune of almost $7 billion a year! Ordinary working Americans are picking up the tab so that these corporate giants can pay poverty wages. (Don't believe it? Watch what happened when a long-time McDonald's employee called the company's help line.) We're not talking about teenagers picking up pocket change. A full 89% of low-wage workers contribute at least 50% of their family budget.
It would be a full-time blogging job to keep up with all the organizing, between Walmart workers, fast-food workers, retail workers, and baristas, but when I open my email from the various mailing lists, I'm overwhelmed with respect and solidarity.
The workers' efforts have produced some tangible gains. California will raise its minimum wage to $10 by 2016 (just as Ontario workers begin the fight to raise our $10 minimum to $14). Walmart has committed to allowing more part-time workers to transition to full-time work, which would not only increase their pay considerably, but make them eligible for health benefits. (This was widely reported as "Walmart Commits to Hiring 100,000 Veterans".)
These results have fueled greater activism, which in turn helps workers in other states and provinces, and other industries, find their courage, too. Baristas in Halifax, fast-food workers in Chicago and New York (and more than 50 other cities!), Walmart workers in Los Angeles... the list goes on. There have been ongoing protests, including civil disobedience with dozens - in some cases, hundreds - of arrests. Workers have been threatened, intimidated, and harassed, and they have continued to organize, willing to lose their jobs to improve working conditions for others. In the cases I know of, solidarity actions and legal actions have been successful at getting those courageous workers reinstated.
If you don't think these actions are vitally important for workers, for our communities, and for our entire society, you may not understand the nature of this workforce. The blog I Can't Believe We Still Have To Protest This Shit, written by Trish Kahle, has some amazing research on fast-food workers: "Everything you think you know about low-wage workers is wrong".
Myth #1: Low-wage workers are mostly teenagers, college students with summer jobs, or people who are only supplementing a second income.I highly recommend reading this post, not only for the facts Kahle has so painstakingly sourced, but for her razor-sharp analysis: go here to read and see links.
Each of these statements is categorically false. 35 million workers in the US make less than $10.55/hour. That’s 26% of the total workforce. 57.4% of low-wage workers are over 30. Only 16.6% of minimum wage workers are teenagers. While low-wage jobs are known for their high rate of turnover, that rate has declined significantly since the beginning of the recession five years ago. And finally, 89% of people with low-wage retail jobs contribute at least 50% of their family budget.
The statistics disprove the myth, but I think it’s important to also confront the logic behind it, which is that it’s morally and economically acceptable to ruthlessly exploit some people and not others. . . . .
Myth #3: Raising the Minimum Wage/Providing Living Wages Would Tank the Economy, or $15 an hour isn’t realistic.
. . . .I did some math, and the store I work at could afford to pay us $30/hour and still be making more than $10,000 in profit each day. Another store I investigated could pay its employees over $50 and maintain a profit margin.
And once again, I would like to point out that workers didn’t tank the economy five years ago. Banks did.
In a week or so, things are going to get really interesting. The strange non-holiday called "Black Friday" by some - also known as National Buy Nothing Day, and for me merely "the Friday after (US) Thanksgiving" - has become a flashpoint for Walmart workers and low-wage workers everywhere. As we are so often told, this is the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States. It will also be the biggest low-wage protest day in history. You can support "Black Friday" actions with a small donation, or better yet, by joining a protest on Friday, November 29, 2013. Find an action near you at Black Friday Protests.
Fight for 15
Low Pay Is Not OK
Black Friday Protests
"What if the minimum wage were a living wage?", from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives