Alvin Major, Opinion contributor
Revealed 4: 00 a.m. ET Feb. 19, 2021
We tranquil combat. But a $15 minimum wage purchased me more time to spend with my family and freedom from fear about where my next meal is coming from.
Watching politicians and pundits debate whether to raise the minimum wage to $15, I every now and then wonder what planet they’re on. Their arguments fixate on every part from the political course of to abstract economic theories.
But for workers care for me, what they’re really vote casting on is whether or no longer they think we deserve to survive.
As a boy rising up in Guyana, I fantasized about transferring to the United States and pursuing the American dream.. At the age of 35, I finally made fair on my goal of transferring to the land of alternative.
But it certainly didn’t figure out the way I had expected.
Back in Guyana, I was one of 14 teenagers. Yet, while my dad was the only real breadwinner in the family, we always had ample for a roof over our heads and food on the table. After I grew up, I started my contain dash business, and never had to fear about issues care for wages, since I was my contain boss.
But then I moved to America, and my lifestyles was very varied from the one my father had. I was raising 10 fewer teenagers than he did, and working longer hours, but we tranquil struggled to gain by. My wife was a dwelling health aide, making a low hourly wage, and I was toiling at three varied fast-food joints in Brooklyn at the same time, looking to toughen the family. Despite all our hard work, we tranquil couldn’t make ends meet.
Why? My wage was $7.25 an hour. Attempt living off that.
Struggling to survive
To eat, we had to depend on food stamps, even supposing we both have been constantly working. The money was so hard to stretch out, bills began piling up and eventually our lights have been reduce back off. , I had to take a discover at to position two teenagers thru college, nonetheless I knew there was no way my earnings would reduce back it. I wasn’t just frustrated — I was scared, and even contemplated going back dwelling to my nation. Ironically, the land of alternative had change into a place where I labored harder than ever, to earn much less and combat care for never earlier than.
That’s after I got occupied with the Battle for $15, an organizing campaign to assist raise wages for workers care for me. After an organizer visited one of the restaurants I labored at, I went to a citywide meeting and realized others have been in my exact same situation — working long, hard hours, with limited to explain for it. We voted to chase on strike and demand $15 an hour, because that’s what we determined we wished to survive. No longer live lavishly, nonetheless survive.
Our first strike was Nov. 29, 2012. I was timorous I’d gain fired for walking out, nonetheless, honestly, I had no alternative. Issues have been so hard, I would possibly no longer survive on $7.25 any longer. Eventually, our coalition of workers got even stronger; we have been joined by car wash workers, airport baggage handlers and dwelling health aides.
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Once we would snarl, some politicians pleaded with us to be more reasonable in our demands. Just resolve for $12, they’d explain us. But we held steady at $15, telling them to take a discover at living on anything less and gape how long you have shelter and food for your family.
And by 2015, Tranquil York and California have been battling to be the first state to $15 for a few of their workers. We have been off to the races. Our chase was rising. And it was unstoppable. In less than eight years, a strike by 200 of us in Tranquil York Metropolis grew to change into into more than $68 billion in raises for 27 million workers, according to a document by the National Employment Law Challenge, which helps minimum-wage increases. By 2026, 42% of the nation is now on the way to $15.
A second chance
I’m one of those 42% whose lifestyles has changed. Now, I work as a Tranquil York baggage handler making more than $17, and it would possibly slide up again soon, to $19. All thanks to raises won by the Battle for $15 and a union campaign.
How has a living wage changed my lifestyles? First of all, I no longer have to work three varied jobs. I am going to work at one place now, which means I have way more time to spend with my family. Essential activities that many take for granted are unusual experiences for me. I can assist my teenagers with homework. I am bonding with them way more than after I was out working all day and evening. I can take on facet projects and spare time activities. And I can work towards sending my teenagers to university.
Financially, I pay my rent on time now and am off of food stamps. I won’t deceive you. Lifestyles isn’t supreme. We tranquil combat, especially when my wife got in sad health and had to cease working. But we no longer have to fear where the next meal is coming from. I can pay my bills and feed my family. I don’t have to acquire anymore.
So I maintain much better. But I’m no longer satisfied but, because a lot of varied individuals are fighting for these same rights. They need better wages and housing, too, so that they don’t have to depend on food stamps or rack up delinquent bills. There are tens of millions out there enduring what I went thru eight years ago — nonetheless even worse. Many are risking their lives in a pandemic, working front-line jobs to shield everyone else afloat while varied Americans are staying dwelling to shield their families safe. They’re fighting care for hell to survive, and fear they may conclude up on the streets if they don’t.
That’s who I’m skittish about: the millions of Alvins working day and evening in the supposed land of alternative, who don’t understand how much longer they can shield going.
When Congress votes on raising the minimum wage, I hope right here’s what they may think about.
Alvin Major is a John F. Kennedy International Airport baggage handler who participated in the first strike by fast-food workers in 2012. He is a longstanding leader in the Battle for $15.
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