Our Voices

Meet Our DC members and hear their stories of fighting for Our DC.

If you work, this story is probably about you

By Sarah Jaffe, Washington Post

Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times magazine and the co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast.

McDonald’s might raise its wages, according to its recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Wal-Mart is considering supporting an increase in the minimum wage, or at least that’s what spokespeople for the company have been floating in recent interviews (though at other times the company has denied this). It seems that strikes and multiyear pressure campaigns by low-wage workers have some impact on their employers. McDonald’s even admitted as much; the SEC report noted “increasing public focus on matters of income inequality” and worker actions were affecting their public image. Labor organizing, often declared dead on arrival, is having some impact. Even President Obama’s decision to raise the minimum wage for workers under future federal contracts was inspired by seven different strikes by low-wage workers at places such as the Smithsonian and the Pentagon.

Not that you’d know it from stories in PoliticoBloombergNBC News and elsewhere. Strikes and worker organizing were nowhere to be found in their reports.

It is probably safe to say that journalists, outside a small but dedicated cadre of labor reporters, have talked to more minimum-wage workers in the past year than in the previous 10. The stories we write can all start to sound the same after a while. Wages are too low, and that spawns a thousand problems. Poverty is expensive, as Barbara Ehrenreich recently detailed for the Atlantic; if you can’t afford a bank account, your pay might come to you on a prepaid debit card loaded with fees for accessing your own wages. If you can’t afford rent, you might be stuck living with that abusive ex. You may be caring for a terminally ill parent on top of your workweek, and when jobs are scarce, your commute might take you two hours.I say “you” deliberately here, because much of the writing about low-wage workers tends to obscure just that fact — that these stories could well be about you. Too much writing on the left and the right has tended to treat the people in some of the nation’s most common jobs as if they are some exotic Other rather than our neighbors, our family members and ourselves. McDonald’s workers are trotted in to tell stories of hardship again and again, pushed for more detail, asked to lay themselves bare.It’s a particular kind of emotional labor that we ask of these workers. In addition to the strength and courage to tell the boss, to his face, that you’re walking out because you’re sick of how you’re being treated, we demand that you perform the role of the poor person for us, and we squabble over the right things to do for you. Our discourse on poverty is fed by stories of misery; it gorges itself on tales of cracked ceilings and no heat and feeding the family on a few dollars a week. But this is just another way that the poor must prove themselves “deserving” and for the better-off to feel righteous for helping them.

The right claims that raising the minimum wage will make these jobs disappear altogether and that if they don’t like jobs they’re in, they can get another one. (Perhaps they will like being a home health care or personal care aide, since according to Department of Labor statistics those are the fastest-growing career paths for most Americans, and they pay a whopping $20,000 a year.)

The left wants to raise the minimum wage, which is a good start, and perhaps even endorses fast-food workers’ demand for a union. But too often we — and I do mean to include myself here — erase the agency of the workers, debate whether they’re really demanding these things of their own volition , talk about them as though they are easily manipulated children rather than adults making a decision. We, too, talk about them as though they are not us.

Americans are mostly disconnected from the labor movement — only 6.7 percent of private sector workers are part of a union — and that means we’ve become disconnected from the idea of solidarity. Instead, we have an ill-defined feeling that we should do something for those worse off than ourselves, something that often turns into a pity-charity complex. Rebuilding the social safety net is a good start, but something more powerful would be a real understanding that we’re all in this together.

I heard that understanding in the voice of Alex Shalom, another low-wage worker who stood up for himself and his co-workers against his boss — this time, his boss at Bank of America. “I think people need to know that tellers are just cashiers with ties on,” Shalom told me, placing himself squarely in the same movement as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart workers. The perceived class difference between a bank worker in a suit and a fast-food worker in a logo baseball cap evaporates when the rent comes due, and many of us know what it’s like to do the math of monthly bills and find you’re coming up short.

We need a movement that makes us feel strong — all of us, whether we work at Burger King or Bank of America or an automobile plant or in journalism. That means not just focusing on the poverty but also the power in the voices of a group of workers on the street outside the Wendy’s where one of their colleagues was just fired for organizing. It means giving those workers and their strikes the credit for the wins when they do come. Too often, people derive something that feels like strength from remembering that someone else has it worse. But that’s temporary, and real strength comes from all of us being strong together.

Leave a comment

A Perfect Storm: Federal Contract Workers Win Executive Order

Activism Works – A yearlong battle of federal contract workers ends with President Obama signing an executive order requiring new Federal Contractors to pay workers $ 10.10 an hour. Federal contract workers were in state of distress because they had little clout in the workplace until they came together. This video outlines their fight.

Leave a comment

Thank you, Mr. President!

<iframe width=”500″ height=”281″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/sm4qqGPX5l8″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Federal contract workers thank Barack Obama for executive order raising wages

Leave a comment

McDonald’s offers worker a budget solution: Apply for food stamps

By Laura Clawson, Daily Kos

McDonald’s is finally getting real about helping its workers get by. The company has moved past the fake budget that includes a second job and allocates just $20 a month for health insurance. Nope, now McDonald’s is giving workers the real secret to survival on McDonald’s wages: government assistance.

Chicago McDonald’s worker Nancy Salgado—a single mother, 10-year McDonald’s employee making the state minimum wage of $8.25, and activist who has twice joined one-day strikes for higher wages—called the “McResources” 1-800 number:

The McResources staffer offers her a number to “ask about things like food pantries” and tells her she “would most likely be eligible for SNAP benefits” which she explains are “food stamps.” After Salgado asks about “the doctor,” the staffer asks, “Did you try to get on Medicaid?” She notes it’s “health coverage for low income or no income adults and children.” [...]In the full, fifteen-minute audio, which was provided to Salon by the campaign, the McResources counselor can also be heard telling Salgado she “definitely should be able to qualify for both food stamps and heating assistance.” She tells Salgado that having food stamps “takes a lot of the pressure off how much money you spend on groceries.” She also tells Salgado she may possibly qualify for Medicaid, though “I wouldn’t want to get your hopes up.”

McDonald’s answer to living on $8.25 an hour: food stamps. Also heating assistance. And maybe Medicaid.

This is totally realistic and in fact what makes survival on $8.25 an hour possible for most people. But could it possibly highlight more perfectly the reliance of the fast food industry on government assistance to subsidize poverty wages? It’s basically a straight-up admission from McDonald’s that the highly profitable company knows it isn’t paying workers enough to live on and is looking to taxpayers to make that possible while keeping profits high and prices low. This has got to be one of the most f’ed up, corrupt kinds of capitalism imaginable: companies padding their profits by pushing their workers onto public assistance. And it’s a feature, not a bug.

So for every person who worries what would happen to the price of their Big Mac if McDonald’s had to pay a living wage, there should be a couple who’d be saving by not having to subsidize the other guy’s cheap hamburger and McDonald’s high profits. I’d mention the benefit to workers and to the basic value that work should pay enough to live on, but let’s be real: Those things obviously don’t matter to McDonald’s.

Leave a comment

We Can’t Survive On $8.25!

Leave a comment

Support the fight for higher paying jobs with a living wage in DC!


Leave a comment

Wendy’s: My Slow Financial Death

A powerful story of a low-wage Wendy’s worker on strike. Click the image to watch the full video.

Leave a comment

D.C. McDonald’s Stores Packed With Surprise Minimum-Wage Protesters

More than 50 protesters filled three District of Columbia McDonald’s restaurant locations urging managers to give employees a voice on the job and a living wage. The protest was warmly received by employees at Tenleytown, Cleveland Park and Howard University fast-food outlets. McDonald’s is a national leader in low-wage pay as it earned more than $546 billion and paid its CEO $13.45 million in 2012. The federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised in four years. The protest comes as a new National Employment Law Project poll finds the majority of Americans believe raising the minimum wage should be a congressional priority. The action ended on Capitol Hill where lawmakers called for passage of the “Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.” which would raise the minimum wage to 10.10 per hour.

Press Conference in Order of Appearance
1) Rep. George Miller (D-CA)
2) Rep.Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY)
3) Lucila Ramirez (Union Station Janitor)

Leave a comment

Video: Who is America’s Largest Low Wage Job Creator?

We are the workers who are employed by private companies through federal contracts, concessions and leases. Yet, while our employers reap billions of dollars in profits from taxpayers every year, we are paid such low wages that we are unable to afford basic needs such as food, clothing, and even rent.

We are uniting to call on the federal government to stop being America’s leading poverty job creator by paying us living wages and benefits. We are fighting to make America a Good Jobs Nation once again. See the Video

Leave a comment

Pepco; Marquetta Says Pay Your Fair Tax Share!

Dear Mr. Rigby, Pepco CEO:
I am fed up with Pepco’s top executive compensation packages, job cutting and poor service; while paying no income taxes and profiteering at the expense of consumers like me.

As a Pepco customer, I demand Pepco withdraw its $42.5 million rate hike request, cut the top executives’ pay in half, and dedicate the utility company’s multimillion-dollar tax refund to job creation.

As the District’s largest distributor of electricity, Pepco is one of the most profitable companies in the Washington area. The weight of the economic crisis is crushing both the unemployed and working families. Poor and working people are losing their jobs and being evicted from their homes because of foreclosure. People are fighting to keep their lights on while you recently were awarded a three-year $6 million compensation package.

From 2008 until 2010, Pepco earned $882 million in profits; paid no federal or state income taxes; and received $508 million in federal tax refunds and $817 million in federal tasx subsidies. That’s more than $2 billion in a three-year period.

As Pepco’s CEO, you have clearly and successfully filled the bank accounts of shareholders while ignoring infrastructure upgrades and local operation staff growth to assure good service.

I urge the D.C. Public Service Commission, Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. City Council to join me in saying NO to you and Pepco’s continuing attempt to rob my neighborhood of good service while rewarding the rich.

Thank you,

An Unhappy Pepco Customer

Leave a comment