Jimmy Lacy interviewed several of the homeless workers who joined 65 CCH leaders at yesterday’s Fight for 15 protests.
With photos by Shruti Sharma
“If you don’t stand up and say something, no one can read your mind, so they’re not going to hear what you need. You have to say something.”
This is how Brenda Starks explains why she joined the protest early Thursday.
“It would make the difference between someone being able to feed their family and someone having to go out and beg,” she said.
Having held minimum wage jobs, but currently unemployed and without steady housing, Brenda, 50, is familiar with how tight money can be when making just $8.25/hour.
Brenda joined hundreds of Chicago protesters to stand in solidarity with a dedicated group of fast food workers who in protest walked out on the job, stopped traffic, and were arrested by the police. With protests in more than 100 cities, fast food workers brought more pressure to raise their wage to $15/hour, with the right to form a union without retaliation.
Brenda said her activism stems from lessons her mother taught her: “If you don’t get up and do something, nothing is going to be handed to you. You have to get it for yourself.”
“The more money we make, the more money we can save to have a better community,” said Dave Vang, 25.
Having worked minimum wage jobs and currently living at St. Leonard’s House, Dave has a broader perspective on the benefits of a $15 wage. Dave went on to discuss how higher wages keep neighborhoods safer, as everyone is economically secure enough to where crime doesn’t pay.
Dave repeatedly spoke of how the wage issue is not self-interest but one of community interest, affecting not just those working now but those entering the workforce. He pointed out that because some people have comfortable lives does not mean that the person serving them food is also able to make ends meet.
“People need to look at the situation, not just themselves,” Dave said. “What we’re doing right now is a big step, not just for us but the next generation.”
“It would turn my whole life around,” said Trey Holmes, 43.
“I’d be able to stay in a better place, I’d be able to provide for my kids, clothes, food, transportation, because right now on $8.25 alone, we’re barely making it.”
Trey also lives at St. Leonard’s, having worked minimum wage jobs all his life. A raise to $15/hour would have a huge impact for him and his family.
Trey is part of a nationwide movement. The movement is already seeing an impact, with Chicago’s mayor signing an executive order Tuesday to raise city contractor’s minimum wage to $13/hour.
Trey views it as paying a fair wage – enough to live on – for hard work.
“I hope things turn for the better for everybody. I hope McDonald’s sees it like we do, saying, ‘We’ll give our guys a raise, because they’re working real hard, $8.25 is not enough, and they’re putting in a lot of work for that.’
“We live from paycheck to paycheck and we always come up short when it comes time to pay our bills, not enough for insurance, dental, health benefits. (A $15 wage) would turn my whole life around.”