Today, April 15, around 20 New College students will carpool to Tampa to stand in solidarity with low-wage workers fighting for a living wage. The Tampa demonstration, which was organized by the Florida branch of the Fight for 15 campaign, is one in a 200-city walkout as part of a national day of action.
Demonstrators are calling for a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize for all low-wage workers. The date for the protests was chosen because the numerical representation of April 15 sounds like ‘for fifteen.’ The Fight for 15 organization began in November 2012 with 200 workers in New York City and has since expanded its efforts globally with action in more than 33 countries.
Though most of the organization’s efforts focus on fast food workers, its website says, “We are fast food cashiers and cooks, retail employees, child care workers, adjunct professors, home care providers, and airport workers.”
Due in large part to the efforts of the organization, Seattle and San Francisco have both passed laws raising wages to $15 an hour, but according to the organization the fight is just beginning.
“The minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living, and many working families in the fast food and other industries live below the poverty line,” transfer student Stetson Cooper said. “Workers also often have to deal with safety hazards, wage theft and union-busting employers. We cannot allow employers to treat their employees like this, especially when CEO pay is at an all-time high and corporate tax evasion runs rampant.”
The McDonald’s corporation has been a particular target of Fight for 15. In response to the recent national conversations ignited over the minimum wage, earlier this month McDonald’s announced that it would raise the starting salary of employees to one dollar above the mandated minimum wage beginning in July. This action would raise the average McDonald’s employee’s wages to $9.90 an hour, though even with the raise many employees would still be making fewer than nine dollars an hour.
McDonald’s announcement only affects company employees, not franchise employees. This means only 10 percent of McDonald’s employees – roughly 90,000 – would receive a wage increase.
Walmart, another regular target of living wage protesters, similarly raised its employees’ wages to at least $9 an hour. This increase went into effect at the beginning of April and will raise again to $10 next February. Walmart’s raises will benefit more than half a million employees – 456 percent more employees than are covered by McDonald’s announcement.
While some critics warn that increased prices and a faltering economy will follow a minimum wage increase, many economists believe that increasing the minimum wage would greatly benefit the U.S. economy by strengthening the middle class and their purchasing power.
If the Fight for 15 campaign proves successful, they could save U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. According to a recent study conducted by the University of California Berkeley, poverty wages are essentially subsidized by the U.S. government at a price tag of $153 billion. This is because when employees are not paid a living wage they are forced to rely on government programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.
“I think the Fight for $15 campaign is important because the minimum wage has not been increased in relation to the high cost of living in the United States,” first-year Ijeoma Uzoukwu said. “I guess the Fight for $15 campaign shows that poverty is not a choice, that poverty is in fact a form of violence – that it is unacceptable and must be changed. More importantly, it’s a worker-led movement full of people who are dedicated to holding these billion-dollar corporations accountable because it is really their livelihoods that are on the line.”