Workers across the country are using the symbolism of Oct. 10 to amplify the call for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10.
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre commemorated the day by meeting with low-wage workers from the D.C. region who would be impacted by a minimum wage increase. Over lunch, the workers talked about what it’s like to raise their families on low pay and the challenges they face every day to make ends meet.
Here are two of their stories:
Fatmata, an immigrant from Saudi Arabia and mother of two, works at Walmart for $8 an hour. She used to dream of coming to America and providing a good life for her family, but her life doesn’t feel like the American dream. She cannot afford to feed her children without government assistance, and she frequently is forced to borrow money to pay for transportation to work and for rent. She doesn’t want to depend on outside assistance—she wants to be financially independent—but she has no choice. For Fatmata, a $2 an hour increase would be significant in many ways.
She’s asked her manager to make her full-time, but her hours vary from one week to the next, which is common practice throughout the retail industry. The United Food and Commercial Workers has strived for years to bring more attention to this problem, particularly at Walmart. This has led many Walmart employees to speak out and advocate for scheduling improvements and other workplace rights through the Our Walmart campaign.
Akofa is a taxi cab driver in Montgomery County, Md. Every day is a challenge. She’s raising three children on a single source of income. Her husband is sick and can no longer work, so she works long hours to make ends meet for her family. After deducting for gas, insurance, credit card fees and the daily expenses the cab company charges, Akofa barely takes any money home. She has no ability to save, and she struggles to even pay her rent. She described her daily life as “slavery, not work” and told Gebre, “Something is wrong if a job can’t feed you,” especially when you work more than 12 hours a day.
Akofa is grateful for the labor federation’s support and is joining her fellow drivers in organizing a union, which has already made a big difference in the way she has been treated by the cab company. A higher minimum wage would make life less burdensome, and give her and her co-workers more leverage in contract negotiations.
After hearing the workers’ stories, Gebre thanked them for having the courage to speak out. He reminded the workers that these struggles are not new, telling them, “There has been economic injustice throughout the history of our country…but it’s important to remember that things like slavery, sharecropping and child labor did not end because corporations came together and suddenly decided to. Workers came together to make the change, and the bravery of everyone here today gives me hope that it will change again.”
“The minimum wage will not be raised if politicians are not held accountable,” Gebre continued. But, as he reminded the room, a higher minimum wage is not enough. “Wages have been stagnant for a generation, and tens of millions of families live in economic insecurity. It will take political intervention to change the course of our nation, and it will take a wave of workers who are willing to stand up for their rights.”
Having heard the conviction in each of the workers’ voices and seen the look of determination in their eyes, Gebre told the room he was confident justice is coming. And, he said, it will arrive soon.
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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW