Fast food workers in 15 cities are going on strike on Tuesday in honor of Black History Month, to demand a $15 minimum wage. They will also be joined by domestic workers and nursing home staff, who together make up some of the country’s lowest wage earners.
“This Black History Month, we have a chance to make our own history by winning a living wage of at least $15 an hour and lifting millions of families out of poverty,” Taiwanna Milligan, a McDonald’s worker in Charleston, South Carolina, told the Guardian. “For decades, McDonald’s has made billions in profit off the backs of workers like me, paying us starvation wages. I’m striking today because I need at least $15 an hour to survive and because I know the only way to make change is to stand up, speak out and demand it.”
Workers like Milligan have been organizing for a $15 minimum wage for nearly a decade now (and in truth, $15 no longer reflects a livable wage in most parts of the country). The Fight for $15 movement began in 2012, when 200 fast food workers in New York City participated in a walk-out for higher wages. The minimum wage then was the same as it is now—it has stagnated at $7.25 since 2009.
But this time, worker-led fights to raise the federal minimum wage are coinciding with a serious battle in Congress to do the same. While efforts to pass a $15 minimum wage have gained traction in Congress before, Biden’s decision to include the wage increase in his $1.9 trillion covid relief plan—and Bernie Sanders’s new role as Senate Budget Committee chairman—has created more urgency around the issue. As chairman, Sanders has the power to use the budget reconciliation process to avoid partisan gridlock and pass the relief legislation and the minimum wage hike.
“What concerns me as much as anything is that half our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Sanders said in January. “Millions of people are trying to survive on starvation wages. For me, it’s morally imperative that we raise the minimum wage to a living wage that’s at least $15 an hour.”
Gloria Machuca, a 20-year-old who works at one of McDonald’s Houston, Texas, locations, told the Guardian she hopes that the Biden administration also sees it as a moral imperative. She makes $9.50 an hour.
“It is not nearly enough,” she said. “Fifteen dollars would mean I could spend more time with my children, not worry about going hungry, paying bills.”