By Caroline Durocher
My employer has pushed and pushed my co-workers and me and gotten everything they can out of us. This week, we joined together and pushed back.
I was one of the first fast-food workers to walk off the job Wednesday night in Seattle, and on Thursday more workers are continuing to take a stand for a raise to $15 an hour and the right to organize without retaliation.
We work in one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, and our companies are making huge -– even record -– profits, but we don't see enough of that money. We barely earn enough to pay for basics like rent, food and transportation to and from work.
I have worked low-wage jobs since I was 16 years old, and now, at 21, am reluctantly sharing a studio apartment with my dad, working the late shift at Taco Bell.
And now I feel stuck in this trap -– the trap of low-wage work. I work the night shift at Taco Bell in Ballard –- running the register for the drive-through, ringing up one customer while taking the order of another. It's fast-paced, hard work, but at the minimum wage of $9.19 per hour and only 27 hours per week, I don't earn enough to make ends meet.
When I ask for more hours, my boss always says the same thing: hours are competitive -– the harder you work, the more hours you'll get. But I work hard, and I haven't gotten any more hours.
I am stuck in a tough spot. I can't get enough hours to get health insurance, but I only qualify for $16 a month in food stamps, which I finally decided wasn't even worth the transportation costs to continue to get them. I can't get a better-paying job, especially without a degree, but I can't afford to go back to school.
Right now, one of my checks goes to my half of the rent, and once I buy groceries and pay my bills, there isn't really anything left to save up. I shouldn't have to barely scrape by. I should be able to start saving some money to go back to school, but I can't.
So what do I have to lose? For me and my colleagues working fast–food jobs across Seattle, the answer is, 'Nothing.' Our backs are firmly against the wall. By joining with my co-workers, I can envision a future in which I earn enough to live, eat and go back to school.
We have been pushed to the edge, and now we are taking a stand, and I could not be more excited, or more hopeful.
Caroline Durocher works at a Taco Bell in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood and is part of Good Jobs Seattle, a campaign by a coalition of groups working to raise fast-food workers' pay.
UPDATE: May 31, 2:53 pm EDT The National Restaurant Association released this statement:
"Recent protests by pockets of workers in a handful of cities are clearly part of an orchestrated organizing campaign, an attempt to target an industry that has not been heavily unionized. Restaurants care about their employees, and the restaurant industry provides opportunities for millions of Americans, women and men from all backgrounds, to move up the ladder and succeed. In addition to providing more than 13 million job opportunities, the industry is one of the best paths to achieving the American dream, with 80 percent of owners and managers having started their careers in entry-level positions.
"It's important to remember that a typical restaurant operates on an average of 3-4 percent pretax profit margin, and more than 90 percent of restaurants are small businesses. Any additional labor cost can negatively impact a restaurant's ability to hire or maintain jobs. Current proposals aimed at increasing the minimum wage to a so-called living wage, in addition to complying with new regulations like the Affordable Care Act, would have a cumulative effect of significantly increasing the cost of doing business and restrict the ability of the industry to create jobs."
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