Above image credit: McDonald's worker Terrence Wise holds his fist up in solidarity as Fran Marion, another local McDonald's worker, speaks at the Fight for $15 rally on Jan. 15 in front of the Van Brunt McDonald’s in Kansas City, Missouri. (Chase Castor | The Beacon)
A steady line of about 70 cars, filled with fast-food workers from Kansas City, their family members and supporters, packed the parking lot and streets in front of the McDonald’s on Van Brunt Boulevard, honking and waving signs in support of a $15 minimum wage and a fast-food workers union.
Among them was Terrence Wise, 41, a McDonald’s worker who’s been advocating to increase the minimum wage for over seven years as part of the nationalFight for $15movement. Wise knows firsthand the difficulties of being a fast-food worker during a pandemic.
“We were already hanging by a thread,” he said. “And then the pandemic came along and really put us in dire situations.”
Organized by local worker-rights advocacy groupStand Up KC, fast-food workers from more than 20 fast-food locations in the Kansas City area went on strike Jan. 15, with snow blanketing the city, joining fast-food workers in at least 14 other U.S. cities in a national day of action to demand a path to unionization and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The nationwide strike took place on the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., whostaunchly advocatedfor workers’ rights.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas also joined the rally to support raising the minimum wage.
Although Kansas City residentsvotedto raise the minimum wage in 2017, where it would increase to $15 an hour in 2022, the Missouri legislaturepassed a lawthat same year blocking that move by prohibiting cities from establishing a minimum wage different from the state minimum wage. Missouri’s current minimum wage is $10.30 per hour, which would be $21,424 a year for a person who works 40 hours per week.
As the coronavirus pandemic has continued upending millions of lives across the U.S. and forced many to work from home, fast-food workers have been in the vulnerable position of continuing to work andrisk potential exposureto the virus.
The rally came in the leadup to the inauguration of President Joe Biden, who hasexpressed supportfor raising the federal minimum wage to $15. Opponents of increasing the minimum wage say the measure would place an undue burden on employers and could force more job losses, although Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellendisputes the potential impact on jobs.
Wise said the pandemic has further underscored the need for a union.
“Even though I make $14 an hour… I don’t have benefits: no dental, no paid sick leave, no health care,” Wise said. “So if I get sick, you know, I’m just screwed.”
‘We need to have a seat at the table’
Life was already difficult for Wise, his fiancée and their three kids before the pandemic — they were evicted right when the pandemic hit and had to move in with his brother-in-law’s family, putting two families under a single roof and making social distancing difficult. On top of that, Wise had his hours cut.
“Some folks… were taken off the schedule completely, losing hours in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “Not only was it dealing with that part, but going to work with the mental aspect, being called an essential worker, being at work and fearing getting sick, or even getting your coworkers sick or bringing something home to your family.”
Service industry workers have beenamong the hardest hitby the pandemic, with thousands either losing their jobs or having their hours reduced. In the Kansas City area, workers in the hospitality industry havelost their jobsat rates higher than any other industry.
Both Wise and his fiancée, who works as a nursing assistant, often worry about essentials, like keeping food on the table and a roof over their daughters’ heads. The pandemic has added another layer: the stress of trying not to contract COVID-19.
“Just dealing with the mental aspect of coming home, trying to still raise the kids, still not making a living wage, you know, everything is still on the rise — bread, gas and milk — but our wages stay the same,” Wise said.
Continuing to work in a customer-facing environment during the pandemic is further compounded by the lack of employer-provided health insurance and benefits for workers. It’sestimatedthat 25% of fast-food service workers are offered paid sick leave, compared to 75% of Americans working in the private industry.
Without benefits, fast-food workers who have to quarantine because of a positive COVID-19 test or because of possible exposure to the virus risk losing out on days’ worth of pay.
“If I miss a day, that’s half of my rent. If I miss a day, that’s food on the table that my kids don’t have,” said Fran Marion, 40, of Kansas City. “If I miss a day, that’s not me being able to provide my son with internet so they continue his online schooling.”
Marion faced that reality when she took five days off work at McDonald’s last year after getting sick, though not with COVID-19. For Marion, five days off work meant five days without pay.
“I lost five days of pay that I could not get back,” she said. “And if I had sick pay, I wouldn’t have been in that situation that put me too far behind, like I’m trying to play catch-up as we speak.”
Historically, it’s been rare for workers in the fast-food sector to unionize. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,unionization ratesfor food preparation and serving-related jobs were among the lowest of any occupation.
More than just earning $15 an hour, Wise said, fast-food workers also need the protections that come with benefits and job security.
“We need a union to protect not only our hours, job security, but to get the benefits, health care, vacations we never get,” he said. “We need to have a seat at the table and a voice on those things as well.”
Some fast-food companies, like Chipotle and Starbucks,providedtheir employees with temporary hazard pay raises, but McDonald’s did not do so.
‘Ripple effect across the country’
Mili Hobbs of Kansas City also attended the Stand Up KC rally. She currently makes less than $10 an hour at Arby’s and spends much of the day getting to and from work on the bus. Raising her wage to $15 per hour would change that.
“The wage increase would help us get exactly what we need to be able to go out there and be more productive,” Hobbs said. “And let us take care of the rent and bills that we have to, along with the essentials that we need as well.”
Since first launching in 2012 in New York City, theFight for $15movement has even more hope that it could see the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 increase for the first time in 12 years. Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 is one of the primary policies included in President Biden’s recently announcedcoronavirus stimulus plan. Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill would also get rid of the current minimum wage thresholds for tipped workers and people with disabilities. The plan would also ease some of the obstacles that currently make unionizing difficult in the U.S.
Biden’s support for the policy gives Wise hope that workers like himself will get to have a voice in the discussion. Still, he said it’s important to hold elected leaders accountable.
“We want them to work together with workers and our employers to give us a seat at the table,” Wise said.
More states and localities have raised their minimum wages in recent years. According to a2020 study from the National Employment Law Project, 20 states and 32 cities and localities will have seen an increase in the minimum wage at the start of 2021; in 27 of those jurisdictions, the minimum wage will have reached or passed $15 per hour. The report also notes that five states and 18 cities and counties will increase the minimum wage later this year.
In last year’s elections, a ballot measure in Florida to increase the state minimum wage to $15 by 2026passedwith 61% of the vote. Florida joins seven other states, including California, Connecticut and Maryland, that approved an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour or higher.
At the start of this year, the minimum wage in Missouri increased to $10.30 per hour, after Missouri voters approved a ballot measure in 2018 thatincreased the state minimum wageby 85 cents per hour yearly until 2023.
That Biden has shown support for a policy that began as a rallying cry for low-wage workers in 2012 shows just how far the movement has come.
“We can see the ripple effect across the country,” Wise said. “And we know that the vast majority of Americans support it as well.
Celisa Calacal covers economics and civic engagement issues for The Beacon, an online news outlet based in Kansas City focused on local, in-depth journalism in the public interest.
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The "Fight for $15" movement started in 2012, in response to workers' inability to cover their costs on such a low salary, as well as the stressful work conditions of many of the service jobs which pay the minimum wage. A July 29, 2013 protest outside a McDonald's in New York City.Are fast food workers getting higher pay? ›
The fast food industry also faces another big change. A new law, AB 257, pushed by unions establishes a council that can regulate wages, hours and other working conditions. "The bill gives fast-food cooks and cashiers the power to raise the industry-wide minimum wage to up to $22/hr," SEIU said in a statement.Should the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour pros and cons? ›
Some economists argue that increasing the minimum wage encourages consumer spending, helps families out of poverty, and boosts tax revenue while reducing tax-funded government assistance. Other economists point out the cons of raising the minimum wage, like increased inflation and unemployment.Did fast food minimum wage go up? ›
If the signature drive doesn't qualify for a referendum and the law moves forward, fast food wages could be raised as high as $22 an hour by the end of 2023. California's minimum wage for all workers is set to rise to $15.50 an hour starting Sunday.Is minimum wage good or bad? ›
Some studies find that the minimum wage has significant benefits for workers; others conclude that it is harmful. Many studies have been inconclusive. Even so, there appears to be a growing consensus that when the minimum wage is set at a moderate level, the impact on employment is modestly negative.Why is minimum wage a problem? ›
Employees working full-time at minimum wage cannot afford basic necessities, such as food, housing, transportation, childcare, and healthcare in any location across the country.Are fast-food workers making $22 an hour? ›
AB 257: The FAST Recovery Act
This council will have the authority to raise the minimum wage for California fast-food workers to $22 per hour by January 1, 2023, which equates to an average 41 percent boost in wages. The $22 cap is then subject to increase each year based on inflation.
Increase the minimum wage: The Fast Food Council can increase the minimum wage up to $22 per hour for 2023 (California minimum wage is currently $14-$15), and the bill allows for an increase of 3.5% each subsequent year. The council will also investigate employees' wage-related claims.What is the highest paying fast-food job? ›
The highest-paying fast-food jobs are definitely managerial roles. Your years of experience are a major factor in determining your salary, with more experienced managers typically earning the most.What are the effects of $15 minimum wage? ›
Researchers determine that regardless of the scenarios, a federal minimum wage increase would reduce poverty among all race and ethnic groups. Considering this wage increase would likely impact 56 million workers, it has the potential to bring great financial relief to families who need it most.
Raising the minimum wage would increase the cost of employing low-wage workers. As a result, some employers would employ fewer workers than they would have under a lower minimum wage. However, for certain workers or in some circumstances, employment could increase.Is $15 an hour good? ›
But even at $15 an hour, life doesn't get a whole lot easier. Two adults who work 40 hours a week each and earn $15 an hour make $62,400 before taxes. That's below what the Economic Policy Institute calculates as a living wage for most of the country.What is the fast-food law in 2023? ›
AB 257, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Labor Day, would create a first-of-its-kind council with broad authority to set standards for fast-food workers' wages, hours and workplace conditions. The council would have had the ability to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers as high as $22 in 2023.What will the federal minimum wage be in 2023? ›
The federal minimum wage for 2023 is $7.25 per hour. Some states and countries have raised their own minimum wages since it has not been increased since July 2009. The federal minimum wage rates below are for general informational purposes only and may change during the calendar year.What's the lowest minimum wage state? ›
Which state has the lowest minimum wage? Georgia and Wyoming's hourly minimum wage are tied at $5.15. However, employers covered by the FLSA must adhere to the federal requirement of $7.25.Why are people against raising the minimum wage? ›
Opponents argue that raising the minimum wage would likely result in wages and salaries increasing across the board, thereby substantially increasing operating expenses for companies that would then increase the prices of products and services to cover their increased labor costs.Who started the Fight for $15 movement? ›
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) helped create and underwrite the Fight for $15 movement because it believed that the US was paying far too little attention to the plight of low-wage workers.What is the argument for raising the minimum wage? ›
Raising the minimum wage reduces turnover. Higher wages lead to lower employee turnover, resulting in reduced recruiting and training costs. An analysis by the Center for American Progress estimates that the cost of replacing low-wage workers is equal to about 16 percent of the employee's annual salary.Can you live on $15 dollars an hour? ›
If we could, we'd realize that $15 an hour amounts to only $31,200 a year, assuming full-time work—about half of the U.S. median income and a painfully small amount for living and raising children in most American cities.” It can be painfully small outside of cities, too.