By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights
Every day we see news reports of low-wage workers going on strike for better working conditions. What we really don’t understand or are not told in those 30 to 45 second news spots is the reality facing theses workers. When low-wage workers take the extraordinary step to go on strike they not only forfeit that day’s pay but they put themselves in their employer’s crosshairs. While the law states that retaliating against an employee who exercises their right to assemble, protest and go on strike is illegal, most employers who engage in retaliation; i.e. reducing the worker’s hours, changing the employee’s shifts, dropping their benefits or firing the employee; are never held accountable.
These workers have taken this enormous risk because life as they know it, simply can not continue. With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour, a single mother that works full time and has one child, lives in poverty at $15,080 (before taxes) a year. This qualifies them for food stamps because without it, they would have little left after paying rent, utilities, transportation, and health care. Even McDonald’s convoluted monthly budget planning guide assumes that workers have two jobs simultaneously and are working both nearly full-time. What’s laughable is that McDonald’s assumes that rent is $600, health care is $20 a month and that is costs nothing to feed and clothe oneself. Through their budget planning guide, they basically admit that workers can not survive on one full-time job that pays the minimum wage.
So why not pay workers more? Low-wage employers, including McDonald’s and Walmart, made billions of dollars in profits in the past few years, yet instead of sharing the wealth with their employees, they pay their top executives on average $9.4 million per year – that’s over $4,517 an hour. Why not shift some of that to the low-wage employees?
American voters, consumers and small business owners want change. Seventy-three percent of likely 2012 general election voters support raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour – including 50% of Republicans and 74% of independents. Close to nine in ten consumers (87%) strongly agree or agree that the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour should be increased. Even a majority of small business owners (67%) support raising the minimum wage. With an exceptionally small raise to $9 an hour, $3,500 would be added to the annual income of full-time low-wage workers and can be used for a year’s worth of groceries or utilities. If raised to $10.10 an hour, as those in both houses of Congress and worker advocates are calling for, then 30.3 million workers would get a raise. It’s time for a real change – we need to raise the minimum wage!