Fight For $15: An extra $1.50 an hour means real change

The bump has made a powerful impact on some people's lives

Kaelyn Forde
New York
Wednesday 08 February 2017 21:40
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What can an extra $1.50 an hour get you? For one man working at McDonald’s, a step closer to the most important milestones in life: a home of his own, marriage and fatherhood.

“People ask me all the time, ‘You’re 35. Why don’t you have savings? Why aren’t you married?'” Jorel Ware told The Independent.

“I feel so destroyed by this as a man. I'm 35, single and have no kids. I can't make it. I love working at McDonald's, so why can't I work there and make a living wage?”

Mr Puzder is an opponent of raising the minimum wage

Mr Ware works at McDonald’s in Harlem, and is part of the larger Fight For $15 movement. Last year, the movement succeeded in getting the minimum wage raised incrementally to $15 an hour for fast food workers in New York City by the end of 2018. The first increase of $1.50 went into effect on December 31, and that small bump has already made a big difference for Mr Ware.

“With the extra $1.50, I can actually buy my MetroCard and pay my rent no problem,” Mr Ware said.

But he still has very little of the $200 or so he now takes home each week to save or splurge. Mr Ware said $150 of his check goes to rent, $30 to his subway card and the rest is spent on food.

“I have a girlfriend, but I live at home with my mom because I can't afford my own place. It affects all of your life. Imagine being a 35-year-old man living in a city where you should be making $41,000 a year, and instead you make between $10,000 and $11,000”, he said.

But Fight For $15, which says it is now an “international movement in over 300 cities on six continents”, fears some of their hard-won progress could be pushed back if President Trump gets his way. Trump’s nominee for secretary of labour, Andy Puzder, is a fast food executive and opponent of raising the minimum wage.

“We believe that there should be a labour secretary who stands up for workers and stands with workers, plain and simple,” said Rachel Cohen, a spokesperson for Local 32BJ SEIU, a union that has supported the Fight For $15.

“The comments Mr Puzder has made are not the words of one who stands with workers. That's why workers have been out in New York and across the country talking about their concerns about this nomination. And we're going to keep fighting.”

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Since the increase, Mr Ware said he had his hours cut by his employer, something the Fight For $15 is currently pushing the city of New York to address through legislation.

Mr Ware said he and other fast food workers were determined to send Mr Trump and Mr Puzder a message that they won’t give up.

"Companies been capitalising off us for a long time. They’re capitalising off this idea that because we're fast food workers, we're the bottom of the tree”, Mr Ware said. “But we're fighting for our rights, and one of our rights is the minimum wage.”

For now, he’s saving the extra $1.50 an hour to buy a new pair of sneakers for the spring. He has also saved up to take his girlfriend out for Valentine’s Day next week.

“We will go out to eat at a nice restaurant”, Mr Ware said of his plans. “And then chocolates, flowers and everything nice that comes with the day.”

Mr Ware is waiting for the day when he earns $15 an hour. He hopes that extra $3 will bring him even close to making his dreams a reality.

“It’s not a lot of money, but with it, I can move out on my own, plan to have a child, get married, go out on dates”, he said. “I want to make minimum wage so that I can look my son in the eye and say: ‘I go to work everyday and I can take care of you.’”

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