I joined the Fight for $15 last year because I also realized that the only way things will change in the fast-food industry is if workers like me join together and demand change.
I am a 37-year-old, full-time Wendy’s worker who is paid $7.55 an hour. My partner and I split two years ago, and even though being a mother is a full-time job, I need to work to make sure our kids have enough to get by.
In Memphis, it’s low-paying service jobs like fast-food that are available. I was the oldest of nine kids, and when I turned 16 I took a job at Arby’s in the mall to help my mother out. After Arby’s, I worked at McDonald’s for six years. So when it came time for me to go back to work, I took a job in the industry that was hiring.
But even though so many people like me depend on fast-food wages, these jobs don’t pay nearly enough for anyone to survive. I try to make my Wendy’s paycheck stretch so I can pay rent, electricity and the phone bill.
But the truth is I can’t do all that on $7.55 an hour—no one could. I turn to the state for food stamps and health care and cut out things like buying clothes for my kids. My oldest son is a talented athlete and plays football, basketball and baseball, but I have to ask the coaches to help me get the equipment and uniforms he needs to participate.
Our fight is not just about pay. It’s also about the right to a union, so we can have a say in our jobs and make sure we’re able to support our families. I don’t get sick days, health care, vacation days or anything else you’d expect with full-time work. When my kids are sick, I have to call my cousin to watch them. When my son has a basketball game, I’m usually ringing up sales behind the counter, not cheering on the sidelines.
My mother told me when I was growing up, “If you want change you better be prepared to fight for it.” That’s the lesson I try to pass onto my kids, and the lesson I hope they learn when they see me out chanting in the streets. Because in Memphis, and across the country, the fight started by the sanitation workers 50 years ago continues.