Following $15 Win For N.Y. Fast-Food Workers, Dozens of Cities Convene Wage Boards to Address Low-Pay Crisis

For Immediate Release

Following $15 Win For N.Y. Fast-Food Workers, Dozens of Cities Convene Wage Boards to Address Low-Pay Crisis

From Little Rock to Las Vegas, Underpaid Fast-Food, Child Care, Home Care and Retail Workers to Testify on Urgent Need to Raise Wages

NATIONWIDE - Workers in nearly 30 cities have announced they are convening the first-ever “people’s Wage Boards” to examine how poverty wages are holding back neighborhoods and communities across the city. Fed up with low wages that result in evictions, unpaid bills, and having to depend on food stamps for dinner, underpaid workers and their community members will testify at panels patterned after the Wage Board in New York that resulted in the state raising pay for nearly 200,000 fast-food workers to $15 an hour.

Beginning on October 6 and continuing throughout the week, these workers will deliver personal testimony on why they need $15 an hour and the right to a union—and are willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Local leaders from state senators to academics to members of the clergy have volunteered to sit on the Wage Boards. In Raleigh, the Wage Board will be made up of state Rep. Yvonne Holley, the Rev. Curtis Gatewood, and a local business owner, Vimala Rajendran. In New Orleans, state Rep. Joseph Bouie Jr., former city councilman and WBOK radio host Oliver Thomas, Pastor Dwight Webster and Human Rights Attorney S. Mandisa Moore-O'Neal will sit on the panel. In Little Rock, three state Senators—Will Bond, Joe Woodson and Vivian Flowers—will sit on the panel to hear testimony from fast-food, child care, home care and retail workers. 

In conjunction with the Wage Board in Pittsburgh, a local city council member has proposed the city establish a Wage Board committee that looks at the effect of increasing wages of low-income workers.

“I used to think that if I kept working hard at Wendy's and put in the hours, I’d eventually scrounge enough that the sight of my monthly electricity bill didn’t cause me to panic,” said Tara Blair, who makes $7.50 an hour at Wendy’s and will be testifying in front of the Wage Board in Memphis. “But I know now it takes workers joining together—as they did in New York—who will actually make the difference. That’s why I’ll be standing up in front of the Wage Board to describe some of my most personal moments—like being kicked out of apartments because I can’t pay rent. It’s not easy for me to share these stories, but Memphis has to realize there are too many people living just like me, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” 

Gov. Cuomo’s announcement earlier this year to adopt the $15 recommendation set by the Wage Board followed weeks of public hearings at which workers testified of being paid so little that they are frequently forced to rely on public assistance to feed their families; of squeezing into crowded apartments, often with strangers; and of being unable to buy clothing or school supplies for their kids, or to take them to the movies.

“When New York fast-food workers won $15, underpaid workers all around the country won too,” said Hilda Edmundson, who has been a home care worker for five years and will be testifying in front of the Wage Board in Raleigh. “Right then, we pledged to build off New York’s victory to win $15 in every state for all workers. The launch of the people’s Wage Boards proves we are unstoppable—we’re going to turn $15 from a dream into a reality.”

According to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project, wages have stagnated for America’s workers across the board, but those in lower-paying jobs are being hit the hardest and low-wage occupations saw the biggest drop in real wages during the recovery. Among the 10-largest occupations in the bottom fifth, declines were most pronounced for occupations in the restaurant sector: food preparation workers and cooks saw wage declines of 7.7 percent and 8.9 percent. Janitors and cleaners, personal care aides, home health aides, and maids and housekeeping cleaners also experienced steep declines.

The people’s Wage Board hearings come as consensus builds that $15 an hour is what American workers everywhere need to survive. In August, the Democratic Party adopted a $15 platform, and every major presidential candidate for the party’s nomination has expressed support for the workers in the Fight for $15. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders from Nancy Pelosi to Kristen Gillibrand have called for a $15 federal minimum wage. And on a state level, politicians are turning out to recommend a raise to $15 to help lift up local economies and families.

“The workers’ testimonies in New York revealed the insensitivity of politicians and society as a whole to make sure that people who work hard are able to take care of their families,” said state Rep. Joseph Bouie Jr., who will sit on the Wage Board panel in New Orleans. “It’s imperative that in New Orleans, we listen to the voices of our workers, too.”

“Child care workers are raising the future and need $15 to afford the basics for their own families,” said Toland Barnett, who has been a child care worker in Raleigh for 13 years. “We celebrated when fast-food workers won $15 in New York, and we’re not going to stop until all workers win $15 and a union.”

From coast to coast, workers are winning unprecedented raises. Earlier this summer, Los Angeles raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, following similar moves in SeaTac, San Francisco and Seattle. Fifteen dollar proposals are pending in Washington, D.C., Portland, Maine, Olympia and Tacoma, Wash. and Sacramento and Davis, Calif. Home care workers in Massachusetts and Oregon won $15 and it is the minimum pay at leading companies like Facebook and Aetna. Noting how the Fight for $15 has changed the politics of the country, the New York Times declared that “$15 could become the new, de facto $7.25,” and the Washington Post said $15 has “gone from almost absurdly ambitious to mainstream in the span of a few years.”

Workers from the following cities will testify at Wage Boards:

AR          Little Rock

AZ          Phoenix

CO         Denver

GA         Atlanta

LA          New Orleans

MI          Detroit

MN         Minneapolis

MO         Kansas City

MO         St Louis

NC          Charlotte

NC          Greensboro

NC          Greenville

NC          Raleigh Durham

NV          Las Vegas

PA           Philadelphia

PA           Pittsburgh

SC           Charleston

TN           Memphis

TN           Nashville

TN           Knoxville

TX           Houston

VA           Richmond

WI           Madison

WI           Milwaukee

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Fast food workers are coming together all over the country to fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. We work for corporations that are making tremendous profits, but do not pay employees enough to support our families and to cover basic needs like food, health care, rent and transportation.

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