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Opinion | How the fight to achieve a $15 minimum wage changed my life

If you watch the debate on Capitol Hill, the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour looks as if little greater than a skirmish in a bigger fight between opposing politicians. But for me and my co-workers, it means one thing else solely: the distinction between poverty and dignity.

When you are making solely $8.50 an hour — that is lower than $18,000 a 12 months — you could have to make very onerous decisions.

I’ve been working at a McDonald’s simply outdoors Chicago for over a decade now. When I started in 2010, I used to be younger and straightforward to exploit. It paid me $8.50 an hour, and I used to be typically pressured to do work “off the clock.” For instance, if my job was to work the money register, I had to are available 15 to 20 minutes earlier than the shift formally started to depend the register after which do the identical factor at the finish of the shift. That may find yourself being an additional hour of labor for no pay.

While working there, I received pregnant and had my son. Being a single mother is tough sufficient. But always working to help him and nonetheless not having sufficient to stay on can put you in a darkish place. When you are making solely $8.50 an hour — that is lower than $18,000 a 12 months — you could have to make very onerous decisions.

To afford housing, I moved into a basement-level residence that continuously flooded, damaging my issues and placing me in a fixed panic. Almost all our cash past lease and utilities went to meals. But my son is lactose illiberal and wishes particular milk that prices $6 a container. What do you do when you possibly can’t afford to preserve your baby wholesome?

Adriana Alvarez together with her son, Manny, in February 2020 in Chicago.Fight for $15 and a Union

When my boy had a main progress spurt, necessitating new footwear and garments, there was no means I may get him what he wanted and likewise handle myself. For garments, I exploit my mother’s hand-me-downs. She did not need to make me really feel unhealthy, so she would say she purchased an outfit for herself after which declare it did not match.

During that point, my son and I have been unable to do virtually something enjoyable. No going to the motion pictures and no “luxuries” like ice cream or toys. We have been basically quarantining: We stayed house all the day trip of economic necessity. The one exception? Going to the park as a result of it was free.

Fortunately, issues began to enhance. Not as a result of McDonald’s raised my pay out of the goodness of its coronary heart, however as a result of we left it no alternative. In 2014, after a few of us have been provided a measly 10-cent raise, we have been outraged. Around that point, an organizer approached me and requested whether or not I knew about the Fight for $15 marketing campaign. He educated me about my rights and defined that being pressured to work off the clock was unlawful. I knowledgeable my co-workers, and so they have been outraged, too.

You would possibly ponder whether I used to be scared to lose my job if I spoke out or protested. The reply is that I used to be so indignant about being exploited and residing in poverty circumstances regardless of holding down a job that I made a decision to go for it. We began with primary home conferences, simply 5 of us at first. Those conferences slowly received greater and greater, which raised our hopes and made it clear that we weren’t alone on this fight. Eventually, I even hosted a assembly myself, although I had no chairs and only one two-seater couch in my residence. I’ll always remember when 15 folks crammed into my residence, consuming pizza and standing in solidarity.

After taking our fight each to McDonald’s and to state officers, we began to see actual change. Chicago raised its wage to $13 after which $14, and now it will be $15 in July. On the state degree, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker took our aspect and signed a bill into law that can part in a $15 minimum wage over the subsequent few years. I used to be at the State Capitol the day the measure handed and can always remember that second the remainder of my life. We have been so nervous however so excited. It gave us the power to carry on combating — and the confidence that, sooner or later, we might additionally win our demand for a union.

Fifteen {dollars} an hour was a rallying cry that grew out of the first fast-food strike in New York City in 2012, however it nonetheless is not sufficient. The residing wage for somebody like me — a single mother in Chicago — is definitely $32.90, in accordance to a residing wage calculator produced by MIT. That signifies that by its estimation, I would wish greater than twice what I’m paid now to cowl the bare-bones prices of housing, meals, transportation, well being care, baby care and different primary wants.

Still, we began by battling for $15. As we did so, we might preserve listening to the identical arguments from rich companies and their advocates who opposed our efforts. First, they claimed burgers would have to be more expensive if wages went up. Then they claimed jobs would have to be cut.

Here’s the fact: These companies have a lot money stored away in their pockets whether or not we get $8.50 or $15. When they pay us a residing wage, they’ll nonetheless preserve their costs low — the key to their enterprise mannequin and the purpose their clients go to them in the first place — and nonetheless have huge income.

It might be carried out. It ought to be carried out. They simply don’t desire to do it.

In the finish, we all know these false claims have been nothing greater than scare techniques. As far as I noticed, the McDonald’s I work at didn’t change its burger costs or minimize jobs after my wage virtually doubled. While minimum wage will increase generally come with small price increases, they’re negligible in contrast to the profit they provide to thousands and thousands of exploited employees. And although many research present that essentially no employment is lost when the minimum wage goes up, even when we lose a few jobs, perhaps meaning people now not have to work two and three jobs as a result of they’ll survive on one.

After our organizing victories, my wage elevated to $14.50. Suddenly I used to be ready to organize thrilling outings for my son. I took him to one thing known as Winter Wonderfest at Chicago’s Navy Pier, the place he ice skated, rode indoor curler coasters and did a bunch of different enjoyable actions we had by no means heard about. We lastly have been allowed to have enjoyable. I had a blast, and so did he. Our lives have been reworked.

The pandemic got here and my hours received shortened as a result of clients may now not eat indoors. Thank goodness my wage was larger when that occurred.

Then the pandemic got here and my hours received shortened as a result of clients may now not eat indoors. Thank goodness my wage was larger when that occurred. I can not even think about what my life can be like if my hours had been decreased and I used to be nonetheless making $8.50.

One vivid spot of the pandemic is that it highlighted the significance of the work my colleagues and I do. We have been labeled as important employees. But since the federal minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 2009, tens of thousands and thousands of us throughout the nation are still being paid as low as $7.25 an hour. It’s time for members of Congress to act.

My story proves lives will change when it does.

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