Poor People's Campaign

February 9, 2021

Tipped and low-wage workers across the country spoke out Monday to demand a federal wage increase to $15 an hour as they described how the increase would change their lives and improve the economy. 

In a Raise the Wage Moral Monday sponsored by the One Fair Wage, SEIU and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, the workers said politicians like to describe them as essential but not pay them what they deserve. 

“When I think about what this $15 an hour can do, I’m thinking about our child care providers, who are mostly women in West Virginia, working for poverty wages,” said Amy Jo Hutchinson of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign. “I’m thinking about the home health aides, who are working for poverty wages. I’m thinking about being told what we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and then told we don’t deserve the bootstraps to pull ourselves up.”

One Fair Wage held socially distanced gatherings in New York City, Phoenix, Denver,  San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., while others gathered online on Monday as politicians debated whether congressional rules allowed the minimum wage increase to be included in a budget reconciliation.  

In the House, the Education and Labor Committee has included a $15 minimum wage in its portion of the pandemic reconciliation package. And Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said on Monday that the Congressional Budget Office’s determination that a $15 minimum wage would have a “direct and substantial impact” on the federal budget means it can be included in the reconciliation process under the Byrd Rule.

“The last time there was a depression of this scale, we got the minimum wage as a result of it in the New Deal. [One Fair Wage] is possible and we are closer than we’ve ever been to passing a full, fair wage with tips on top,” said Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage. 

As he called on both Republicans and Democrats to stand fast on the $15-an-hour minimum wage, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said minimum-wage workers and their alliescannot get this close and then fall back.”

“We say to all of them: Don’t turn your back on $15-an-hour minimum wage,” Rev. Barber said. “Listen: 55% of poor and low-wealth people voted for this current ticket. That’s the mandate. The mandate is in the people who voted.  Not in the back-slapping of senators and Congress people.  It’s the people who voted. If we turn back now, it will hurt 62 million poor and low-wealth people who have literally kept this economy alive — who were the first to go back to jobs, first to get infected, first to get sick, first to die.  We cannot be the last to get relief and the last to get treated and paid properly. Respect us, protect us and pay us.” 

Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, addressed the lies that some tell to make people think the country cannot afford to increase the minimum wage. 

“We cannot believe these lies that if we raise the wages, that it means that people are gonna lose work,” Rev. Theoharis said. “We cannot believe the lies that if we pay all workers, including tip workers, a living wage… that it’s gonna hurt our society.  A society that allows 62 million workers to make less than the living wage is a society in crisis. And it does not have to be this way.” 

Essential workers need more than a thank you, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said.  “They need to be respected, protected, and paid,” she said. “Working people expect action — nurses who are the last people to hold the hands of COVID patients, janitors who are keeping public spaces we’re so eager to return to clean, fast-food workers feeding other frontline workers and all of us, and underpaid home care workers caring for our aging loved ones. Elected leaders must act now to answer the call and pass a federal $15 minimum wage.”


Pam Garrison, West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign: 
“They call this a rescue package. But yet, they want to take the most important part of the rescue out of it. If you want to get our economy going, then you give our people a decent wage. Don’t take the main part out of a rescue package! Yes, we need help with the COVID; we need the whole, we need the whole nine yards. We need the whole thing. If you give people a minimum wage, if you give them a living wage, we can fix the holes in our roofs, we can buy a decent — get us a vehicle that we can keep on the road. … It’s gonna take us letting them hear our voices and know: We are tired of scraping, scrounging, being hungry. We are tired of being the last on the list. We all want our voices heard.” 

Brianna Griffith, a tipped service worker in West Virginia:
“We have a bloody and dark history of our people being treated terribly.  And right now, with our essential workers on the frontlines in these small, cold towns with no space in the hospitals, we need that $15 more than ever  — especially our restaurant workers, our tipped workers.  They are out on the frontlines. West Virginia is hemorrhaging young people out of this state.  We don’t have enough money to live here; we have to leave and find our way elsewhere, even though we would rather live in our home.  So this $15 would mean everything to us.”

Adriana Sanchez  of Chicago, McDonald’s employee for about 18 years:  
We are essential workers. But we are not treated as so. I personally got sick. They didn’t pay me while I had COVID. And that is not fair. Many of my coworkers also got COVID where I was working — where I work, rather. And we did not get paid. None of us. I am going to stay here. I will continue to fight so that we get paid what we deserve. We are essential workers, and we have to be treated as such.”

Haley Holland, a waitress in Phoenix: 
We’re not just service workers now. We’ve taken on the responsibility of being a public health official, dealing with guests who refuse to follow guidelines, and suffering for it. A $15 minimum wage with tips on top is long overdue. The cost of living has skyrocketed, and the minimum wage has stayed the same. Service workers deserve more for all their hard work. We deserve respect. We deserve livable wage WITH tips on top. That is why we NEED One Fair Wage. 

Justice Akueze, a bartender in Detroit:
“It’s probably not even safe for us to be working and It’s not ideal, but it’s what we have to do to make a living and for the promise of getting a little money in your pocket to pay your bills. I don’t even know if it’s even worth the risk right now, what we are going through with putting our loved ones at risk. 

Ifeoma Ezimako of Washington, D.C., a hospitality professional: 
“It is WAY past time to end the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. This legacy of slavery MUST end.  It exploits our workforce that is mainly built up of mostly women and people of color. Living off of barely $2 an hour plus tips forces us to endure and even tolerate inappropriate customer behavior since tips make up the bulk of our pay.” 

Veronica Correa, restaurant worker in California: 
“Restaurant workers are uniquely positioned in that they are essential workers, but they have some of the least protections. Most of my colleagues have been on and off of unemployment for the past year due to the pandemic.  They’ve run through whatever limited savings that they have, which is already super limited because based on a tip system, in the hospitality industry, it’s really unstable and it’s hard to plan.”

Brian Keyser, owner of New York City restaurant: 
“I want you to remember that you’re gonna be faced with lies, constantly, about what raising wages is gonna do to the economy.  People say, if we raise wages, we’re gonna lose jobs; businesses are gonna have to close; they’re gonna cut jobs.  And there’s no example of this being true.  For the entire history of this country, when wages have been raised… the economy has boomed.”