- I make just $10 an hour working at McDonald’s in Memphis, and it’s nowhere near enough to cover basic necessities every month for me and my baby daughter.
- A federal minimum wage of $15 an hour would help keep a roof over our heads and put food on the table.
- This would increase wages for nearly 40% percent of Black workers, and overall more than 23 million Americans would see their income grow.
- Karesha Manns is a McDonald’s worker in Memphis, Tennessee and a leader with the Fight for $15 movement.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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In Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech, delivered while he was in Memphis to support Black sanitation workers striking for better working conditions, he declared that “we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end.” He was killed the next day, but his fight for racial and economic justice — including a fair, livable wage for all working people — didn’t end with his death. It continues today, on what would be his 92nd birthday, as I join with fast-food workers around the country to go on strike for a $15 an hour wage.
Across more than 15 cities, from here in Memphis, to Detroit, to Durham, North Carolina, and beyond, fast-food cooks and cashiers are striking today to demand that employers like McDonald’s pay us $15 an hour because we can’t make ends meet and provide for our families on anything less. And as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, we’re urging the nation’s leaders to pass a $15 minimum wage in the first 100 days of the new administration.
Fast-food workers have been on the frontlines of the COVID crisis
Over the past year, fast-food cooks and cashiers have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, risking our lives to continue serving burgers and fries without access to adequate PPE and other basic protections.
Even as companies like McDonald’s have given out billions of dollars to shareholders, workers like me have continued to make wages that put us below the poverty line. We’ve watched the virus devastate communities of color as the nation reckoned with systemic anti-Black racism. Meanwhile, corporate profits continued to soar.
I make just $10 an hour working at McDonald’s in Memphis, and it’s nowhere near enough to cover basic necessities every month for me and my baby daughter. I haven’t even been able to furnish my apartment, because every cent of every paycheck has to go towards keeping a roof over our heads and putting food on the table. I can’t think about buying a couch when I can barely afford an apartment.
That’s why I see myself in the Memphis sanitation workers who rallied here alongside Dr. King over half a century ago. I know that our struggles are connected because their fight won’t be complete until this country has achieved racial justice and economic justice — and because until our Black communities can thrive, no community can thrive.
Dr. King understood that a livable wage is one of the most powerful ways to lift up every community and reduce racial inequality. Ahead of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. King and his co-organizers released a set of ten demands, including a demand for “[a] national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living.”
Years later, Congress met their demand and raised the minimum wage, which experts have found led to a 20% drop in income inequality for Black Americans. But today, our nation’s leaders have left the minimum wage at $7.25 for more than 10 years, while the cost of living has skyrocketed.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would increase wages for nearly 40% of Black workers, and overall more than 23 million Americans would see their income grow. That means more money in the pockets of consumers to spend at local businesses, which in turn will create more good-paying jobs. And with over 30 million low-wage workers on public assistance at an annual public cost of $107 billion, the federal government could save taxpayers money by simply giving workers a raise.
Moving forward and treating workers better
We are facing a turning point as we enter what will hopefully be the final months of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not enough to return to a status quo that left Black and brown workers vulnerable to the worst impacts of the virus, with the federal government failing to take enough action to protect all workers. We need fundamental change to rewrite the rules of the economy and dismantle systemic racism that has haunted us for generations.
As I go on strike today, I’m motivated by the memory of millions of people flooding the streets last summer to march and shout for racial justice. I’m drawing on the strength of the Black and brown workers who turned out in record numbers to give Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the mandate to fulfill their campaign promise of a $15 minimum wage.
And I’m standing on the shoulders of the Black sanitation workers in Memphis who stood with Dr. Martin Luther King to fight for justice, understanding that there can be no racial justice without economic justice. As we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, fast-food workers are seizing the moment to speak up and make our demand for $15 heard from coast to coast. We won’t rest until we win a better future for our families and all working people.
Karesha Manns is a McDonald’s worker in Memphis, Tennessee and a leader with the Fight for $15 and a Union who supports her 1-year-old daughter on pay of just $10 an hour. She is mobilizing with thousands across the country to demand McDonald’s pay their workers at least $15 an hour and to call for a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour.