This System Doesn’t Work For Us

By Maria

I currently work for a high-end department store, filling online orders. I don’t have a car, so I have about a two hour commute on two buses. I get to work at 7:00 a.m., three hours before the store opens. My job is to find the items ordered online, and to ship them out.

After two years of working there I have finally qualified for a retirement and dental plan, yet I might have to reject the retirement plan because I do not earn enough, and too much money would be taken out of my paycheck.

Even though they offer a health insurance plan, it is too expensive and the company is not willing to offer a plan that is affordable to its employees.

After taking more responsibilities I asked my supervisor for a raise, telling him I was only earning $10 per hour. As I told him this he acted as though he did not believe that I earn that little.

He “promised” to ask the people on top to give me a raise.

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Sometimes When We Have Extra Food I Bring It In To Share With My Coworkers

Billy Villa, Custodian

Boulder [Colorado] prides itself on being a diverse, tight-knit community. But many of us who work here feel marginalized and excluded from this experience.

I’m talking about those of us who work for large employers but are making meager wages. I’ve been a custodian at University of Colorado Boulder for about 2 years now, yet I cannot afford to live in the city I work in. I commute at least an hour a day because the rents in Boulder are just too high.

I’m almost sixty and I have to live with my brother and his wife, because I cannot afford to live on my own. Each month, I am just one paycheck away from being broke. That’s why I’ve been looking for a second job to help me pay my bills.People think that working for the state you get a good wage and great benefits, but that’s not true. I’m one of the nearly 3000 state workers who make less than a living wage and struggle to make ends meet.

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This Struggle Needs to End

By Laurel Loesser, Custodian

Each day, when cleaning various buildings of CU-Boulder, I see plaques with the Colorado Creed plastered all over campus, the third and final tenet of which says “Contribute to the greater good of this community.” Each day, I feel that the University is far from living the creed, because more than 500 of CU-Boulder’s workers are paid wages we can’t survive on.

When I’m working I try to keep my campus beautiful. I’m on the team that responds to emergencies, so when you have a leak or someone throws up in class, I’m the person who’s coming to fix what’s wrong. I take pride in knowing that I’m making classrooms a good environment for learning and the grounds a beautiful place to walk through. But when I think about whether my daughter could attend this school, I know that as a single mom I can’t afford it.

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Living Wage

By Shonntay Butler

What is this thing that they call the living wage, when families can barely maintain?

Mothers become single while fathers keep leaving trails of despair; forcing mothers to lose their mental frame!

Lost sleep over little feet’s…

Lack of memory due to the fact they have to eat.

Seconds become minutes; minutes become hours; hours become days of lost time without sleep!

Losing Public Assistance and the decrease in Food Stamps causes my bills to add up!

With rent, electric and needing more eats; combination of clothing and basic needs I’m staring at defeat!

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If I Made a Living Wage

By Elliott DeLine

If I made a living wage
I think that I could disengage
The guilt I’ve felt for being alive
And doing what I must to survive.

The time wasted, the sickening rage
Uncivil servants in my face
Accusations, threats, and lies
Profits from my teary eyes

My mother’s silence
My father’s shame
The intergenerational pain
“We pulled ourselves up, why can’t you?”
“A college degree should get you through.”

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Living Wage and Reclaiming My Humanity

By Stephanie Harris

“Every time I hear the door opening, I feel the person coming into the restaurant and taking a piece of me”. I work at Mehaks Indian Cuisine, located in Ithaca, NY and I make $7.25 an hour-which is about half of what the proposed living wage is for Ithaca. My co-workers, Heidi, said the aforementioned quotation when musing on how she felt during a Friday night shift. At first, I was taken aback that she said such a claim. As a server, it’s engrained into the way you think that you just have to accept the flow of customers that come in on any particular night. You don’t question any of the pain you feel in your body from the long hours and various tasks that you have to do, because it becomes an accepted part of your lifestyle.

But there is a certain danger than comes with this complacency. You become your own worst bully. Your mind goes through the motions of accepting the work conditions and the derogatory treatment by people as part of the work that you’ve chosen to participate in.

When your wage is based off the number of people who walk through the door of a particular restaurant, there becomes the inherent need to sell yourself.

The money I make for a living isn’t based on how much I make per hour.

It’s based on who walks through the door of the restaurant.

It’s based on the whim of a person and their feelings about my service.

It’s based on the inherent assumptions the customer makes about my persona, the type of work I do, and why I do it.

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By Tal Mintz

Burnt hands carrying calloused fingers
I take pride in my work.
Smells of meat and sweat stain my clothes
I deserve every cent of that paycheck.

My co-workers threaten to strike for living wage, I cannot afford too.
In a sea of high school students, I am trying to pay my rent.
In a sea of debt, bills, and taxes, I am trying to stay afloat.

You see my dad was poor and his dad was poor
And I’m poor but have a degree, but my child will likely be poor like me.
The American Dream of socioeconomic mobility
Is now a modern day caste system where we celebrate the few who achieve.

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Just Shy of Full-Time, It’s Virtually Impossible for Me to Visit My Family

By Evelyn Olano
I work for FSS as a wheel chair agent. I am the person that makes sure passengers who need assistance make it to their gates on time for their flights.

I work hard. But I would like to take some time off to visit my family in the Philippines. Unfortunately I only qualify for paid vacation if I work 2,000 hours in a year. But with the 32 hours/week I am given, I can never get there because we lose our hours at the end of every year and have to start again from zero. I don’t know when I will get to see my family without losing pay or even my job because it seems like I could never earn enough time to actually qualify for a vacation.

Reprinted with permission from It’s Our Airport.

We’re Not Treated With Respect

By Ikran Sheikh

I have worked at [Seattle–Tacoma International Airport] cleaning airplane cabins since 2008. I work hard making sure that Alaska Airlines cabins are clean.

But at the workplace, it feel like there is no respect, and nobody seems to value what you say. If you don’t speak English, you are treated like a donkey.

After three years of working graveyard shift I was finally transferred to days. After just six months, I was transferred back to graveyard. I think it was because my managers found out I was speaking out about the bad working conditions. When I complained, they told me if I don’t like it, I can turn in my badge — that means no more work.

I can’t afford to lose my job. I support my whole family on my hourly wages. That is why I am speaking out. Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle depend on the hard work of people like me. I am only one of the hardworking people at Sea-Tac that earn poverty wages. We deserve respect and fair wages.

Reprinted with permission from It’s Our Airport.

Cleaning Planes is Hard Enough Without Safety Problems and Rushed Schedules

By Inola Graham
While you are sleeping I work though the dead of night on the graveyard shift cleaning aircraft cabins. My name is Inola Graham, and I work for DGS.

On the day shift, the cabin cleaners do a quick turnaround cleaning – important work to ready the cabin for the new passengers. But on the graveyard shift my crew and I do what is called deep-cleaning. I am constantly stressed and rushed to do a thorough cleaning of the entire plane from top to bottom in only 45 minutes.

It is a stressful job and managers don’t give us enough time to do a thorough cleaning of the entire plane. We are rushed and rushed and often I am forced to work for more than 5 hours without a break, food or drinking water. The air conditioning is off during the graveyard shift and the heat in the plane is stifling. Our equipment is in poor repair, electrical vacuum cords are taped together and spray bottles of cleaning fluid leak onto our faces and arms when we clean the overhead compartments. Can you imagine working while your arms are being burned by chemicals?

We work hard to make passengers comfortable and the cabins sanitary. Big companies like Alaska Airlines profit from my hard work. We should be treated with respect and make a living wage.

Reprinted with permission from It’s Our Airport.