On September 4th, 2014, employees from fast food restaurants across the country began striking for better wages. Organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the day’s walkout protests have been called the largest demonstrations for higher wages yet. Workers are demanding a “living wage” of $15 per hour.
Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but states can raise these on an individual basis. This number has been determined by Congress to be least possible amount a worker can make in order to live a “decent” life and pay for necessary expenses, however, many argue that it is too low to live a life outside of poverty. This is the bare minimum, not a wage to live on and save for the future in order to lift yourself out of poverty. It does not provide an employee with benefits such as retirement savings, healthcare, and sick leave. Because of this, minimum wage workers often have to pay out of pocket for these necessities, go without, or rely on federal or state programs. Additionally, many minimum wage earners are trying to support a family on $7.25 per hour, which is another argument by critics of the federal minimum wage. Parents work over 40 hours per week to scrape a living and then cannot spend time with their families.
The federal minimum wage has not been raised since July of 2009 and President Obama has been calling for an increase to $10.10 per hour since his 2014 State of the Union address. Since then, thirteen states and the District of Columbia have answered President Obama’s call and have passed legislation to raise their own minimum wages by 2017. Connecticut was the first state to pass this legislation on March 26th, 2014. These thirteen states have agreed to help over 7 million workers, but according to the White House, raising the federal minimum wage altogether could help over 28 million workers. Workers with children represent 46% of this projection.
These fast-food walkouts are not new, however. In July of 2012, 1,300 workers making minimum wage in Chicago voted to use nonviolent civil disobedience to draw attention to their fight for a $15 federal minimum wage. Walkouts began in November of that year in New York City and often last for one day to get as much attention and participation as possible. Sometimes, protestors are arrested for “disorderly conduct” but many claim that it is well worth it. Organizers of the rallies also hope that the movement will spread beyond fast food workers to include home healthcare workers, janitors, and other employees of the service industry who earn the minimum wage.
Though many argue that raising the minimum wage would put unnecessary strain on the economy, consider the fact that workers earning the $7.25 per hour wage often cannot afford healthcare and must rely on federally funded programs, which is government spending anyway. A “living wage” of $15 per hour is in the best interest of service industry employees, their families, and the economy as a whole.