A few weeks ago I attended a town hall called CEOs vs. WORKERs, hosted by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT). His intention was to bring awareness to the minimum wage crisis that has full-time workers, people who work 40 hours or more per week, below the poverty line and families struggling to make ends meet. While the corporations Senator Sanders mentioned see increases in stock, millions of dollars in CEO wage increases, and profits at all-time highs, the average worker is seeing none of these benefits. Large corporations are knowingly paying low wages, setting unrealistic expectations in daily work schedules, and not providing benefits to their employees. Some of the world’s largest chains including McDonald’s, Walmart, Disney, American Airlines, and Amazon are all culprits in undermining the humanity of their employees and that’s why Bernie invited them to his town hall. “Overworked and underpaid” is an understatement in these cases. At the town hall, Senator Sanders brought with him longtime workers of the companies he put up for questioning. None of the CEOs were in attendance, because it would be rather hard to defend their positions, but the workers from these companies were courageous enough to come share their stories.
To put my blog into context I wanted to give some background on the cost of living and the minimum wage:
The average cost of living increases every year, while the federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009 and is currently $7.25. It is horrendous that people work full-time jobs and cannot provide for their kids or afford to meet their basic needs. The current poverty line is $12,140 and someone working full time for $7.25 with no vacation time would just barely make it out of poverty. Why should someone working full time not be able to keep their lights on and have to worry about how they’ll pay for their next meal? The simple answer is, they shouldn’t.
“People cannot afford to live and eat, even when working for multi-billion dollar companies.”
People cannot afford to live and eat, even when working for multi-billion dollar companies. Cynthia Murray, a worker of 11 years at Walmart spoke of the company “putting out boxes for employees to help feed other employees” and Senator Sanders pointed out the absurdity because Walmart is owned by one of the richest families in the world. People who are working full time should not need food assistance and companies making billions of dollars should not ask their low-wage workers to provide for one another. Rather than tackle the issue at the root with a long term solution, Walmart decided to have a short-term goal where other employees foot the bill. Artemis Bell, a worker from Disney spoke on affording housing,“ I know people [working for minimum wage] who have lost their houses, some who are living out of their cars. There are no resources if you need help.” The land where dreams comes true cannot even ensure their employees can afford their rent.
Senator Sanders asked the following at a press conference leading up to the event:
“The American people also want to know why, as taxpayers, they have to subsidize and provide corporate welfare to the wealthiest and most profitable corporations in the country. How does it happen that there are major corporations in America where CEOs receive extravagant compensation packages, who pay their workers wages so low that many of them are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing—subsidized by taxpayers—to survive?”
The people who help these large corporations create their wealth are struggling to make ends meet and those large corporations are forcing their workers to use government programs in order to feed themselves and their children. Senator Sanders remarked in outrage, “Amazon reported $5 ½ billion in US profits, but somehow got away without paying a nickel in federal income taxes.” We need to hold these corporations accountable and see to it that they pay their dues and treat their workers fairly.
People complain about where are tax dollars are going, but there isn’t a big enough conversation around the giant corporations that are getting astronomic tax breaks. Amazon is overworking their employees and underpaying them, as they continue to see gigantic growth in their revenue. It’s clear they need to raise the wage and treat their employees with more respect.
As giant corporations are dehumanizing their employees and billion dollar companies are forcing their workers to live in poverty, the average American worker is still struggling to provide for themselves. With 23 million low wage workers, more and more Americans a recognizing that they they cannot live of of $7.25 an hour. Some may raise the argument that only teenagers are fulfilling these minimum wage jobs as an introduction to the the working world, the numbers say otherwise. Workers ages 25 and under compromise less than half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less. Which means that more than half of minimum wage workers are well into their adulthood and have started careers to help support themselves. For them, it’s not just a little extra spending money, it’s food on their table and clothes on their backs. In addition, women are massively overrepresented in the low-wage workforce as people continue to discredit and demean our work. Women make up 69 percent of jobs that pay less than $10 an hour, without question, and just like any issue, this is a women’s issue.
“Women make up 69 percent of jobs that pay less than $10 an hour”
I just took a job working at a daycare to finish out my summer. And while I’m technically still a dependent, some of my coworkers have been working ten plus years and see less than $11 per hour. And I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to control and productively manage a classroom full of infants, toddlers, or 3 year olds, but none of these age groups are easy and I leave everyday worn out. For teachers to be paid so minimally and work as hard as they do, they should not have to work one to two other jobs to make sure they can provide for their families. I also have worked at TJmaxx where older employees and people with decades at the company continue to make less than $15 an hour. With mouths to feed at home and lights to keep on, they leave 8 hour shifts to go work 6-8 more hours at another job. It is not easy for them, they leave exhausted, miss their families, and wish something could change. A call for a higher minimum wage is a call for a living wage where people can lead happy lives and not work themselves into the ground.
We’re not asking for people to make millions, we’re just asking that people are able to provide for themselves. Minimum wage workers who are contributing members of society and more importantly, human, should not starve or struggle to have a roof over their heads after working $40 hours a week. Adriana Alvarez, who has worked at McDonalds for 11 years, responds to a question about what’s next, “I’m not asking for a lake house. I’m not asking for a mansion. All I want is to be able to provide better for my son. Why should I have to depend on the government?” All we’re asking for is liveable wages to ensure workers can provide for themselves and their families.
Senator Sanders remarks, “We have to ask ourselves if [this is] the kind of economic culture we are comfortable with. And I think most Americans are not.”
And I know for certain that myself and millions of other workers are not. It’s time to raise the wage. Join the Call for $15 in their fight for fair wages and keep the conversation as we with workers to change the lives of millions of people.