April 15, 2015
By Lisa Calcasola
The last time that the federal minimum wage was raised, from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour, was in July of 2009, the last of a three-step increase approved by Congress in 2007. Before 2007, however, the rate had been stuck at $5.15/hour for 10 years.
This April 15, 2015 was an important day for thousands of people across the United States and even worldwide. The Fight for 15 movement, whose mission statement is to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of 2015 and allow workers the right to unionize, made a statement as thousands of people in over 200 hundred cities and 35 countries gathered to protest. The Fight for 15 movements began in New York City, when 200 people, mostly fast food workers, went on strike after Thanksgiving Day in 2012.
As living expenses continue going up, it has become more and more important to watch over every dollar entering one’s bank account. Working long hours, some of which go undocumented (and thus where the slogan “overworked and underpaid” comes from in this year’s Manhattan protest) for years and years while not seeing a difference being made despite one’s efforts and reliability is discouraging to workers across the country and globe. Worse, since prices on daily
necessities are increasing and wages are not, workers often sacrifice time with their family and loved ones to work even longer hours just to keep that bubble of financial security.
The Fight for 15 demonstrations in Manhattan began at 4 p.m. with a stirring rally to prepare for the 6 p.m. march from 59th street at Central Park to 42nd street in Times Square. Workers from homecare, childcare, hotels, fast food restaurants and other fields held signs such as “Fight for 15 and Raise America”, “Worker’s Need, not Corporation Greed”, and “Invisible No More.”
Ms. Joy Watts was one of the many women marching in the crowd, wearing a purple “I’m a Proud 1199 Homecare Worker” sticker on her white scrubs. Ms. Watts has worked with the same patient for eight years and has not seen a change in wages in 10.
“They tell us promises, but then don’t do nothing,” she said. “They say they’ll increase wages but they don’t. I’ve been working with the same patient for eight years. I’m reliable and caring, but my wage never goes up. It’s not fair.”
Throughout the day many homecare workers joined in song to sing the words “We’re overworked, and underpaid, we’re overworked and underpaid. All we want is fifteen dollars . . . we’re overworked and underpaid.” When asked what that meant personally to her, Ms. Watts, a seemingly shy woman, began to really speak up.
“We work long hours and often go overtime, but that time goes undocumented. Sure, they tell us we can earn more money, but that’s on weekends, when we get an extra $1.50 an hour, or on holidays, where we earn double. Which is fine, but that means taking time away from yourself and family.”
Ms. Watts does not have children, but she knows that many people fighting for a raise do need that extra money to support their families. When asked personally what she would do with that extra money, she answered, “Not having to worry about food stamps and rent.”