Working people do better when we stick together

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The author, Richard Grimes, in scenes from a strike in November of last year.

Across the country anti-worker politicians and corporations are stacking the cards against the 40 percent of Americans making less than $15 an hour and Connecticut is no different. Connecticut has one of the nation’s highest costs of living and the current minimum wage at $10.10 cannot sustain working families.

At the end of the recent legislative session here our elected officials had a chance to make a real difference in the lives of the tens of thousands of families who make less than $15 an hour across the state. We watched the process at work toward the end of the recent legislative session from the sidelines, only to see the $15-an-hour bill get stalled inside of the appropriations committee, never to see light before the close of the state’s business.

Living in Hartford, making the minimum wage is hard. I have to often go without because my hours are inconsistent and I only take home around four hundred dollars every two weeks. With my wages it’s hard to believe I work in one of the fastest growing
industries — fast food. And, before working at Burger King I worked retail at a number of places, still never earning anywhere near $15 an hour.

I’m unable to afford a place to stay, so instead I spend each night in search of a place to sleep. And I’m homeless not because I don’t have a job. I have a great job that I enjoy. I’m homeless because I don’t make enough to afford a place to live. My survival is dependent on public assistance. And while I receive food stamps I have nowhere to cook a real meal, so there are days that I’m still hungry.

If workers like me had more money in our pockets, we’d spend it, helping to create jobs and safer neighborhoods. Fifteen dollars would change my life in so many ways. I could finally be able to call some place home and go to that same place each and every night. I would be able to put food on the table, buy clothes, and pay for transportation – maybe even catch a movie and do something an average 20-year-old would do.

It’s so unfair that while workers are trying to figure out how to pay our bills, put food on the table and clothes on our backs, we have CEOs at fast-food companies like McDonald’s and Burger King pulling hourly wages higher than what I make in a year and rigged politicians turning a blind eye. Working seven days a week and barely making enough to scrape by in order to live is not living at all and I deserve better. We all do.

The system isn’t working for workers like me. It’s time for politicians to do the job we elected them to do — raise the standard of living for workers and that starts with raising the state’s minimum wage. There are two ways we can win a $15 an hour minimum wage: raise the minimum wage through legislation and strong unions.

In Connecticut, wage inequality between white workers and workers of color exceed the national average and as unions continue to decline the racial gap continues to grow. Our wages have not kept up with the growing cost of living. And so on Labor Day,
workers in the Fight for $15 will unite with community leaders and allies here in Hartford and across the country to confront the politicians and corporations who continue to stack the cards against us and put the demand for unions at the center of the national conversation.

Richard Grimes is a member of the Fight for $15 and works at Burger King making
$10.10 an hour.

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