I came to this country in 2010 with my two children looking for a better future. My first job was as a cashier at McDonald’s at Penn Station, earning the minimum wage of $7.50. Although I was hired as a cashier, management asked me to do other tasks such as food preparation and cleaning the restaurant. Despite all my hard work, the salary was never enough.
When I received my first check, I was shocked: How was I supposed to be able to support my family with a $200 paycheck? I could not help but wonder: Given that McDonald’s is one of the richest companies in the world, how they were paying me such a low salary? As a mother, the minimum wage was not paying me enough to cover rent, food, and my family’s other expenses. This was true no matter how carefully we spent.
The same is true for thousands and thousands of fast food workers who earn the current minimum wage of $8.75. In the end, I had to leave my job because the salary was not enough, but about 180,000 New Yorkers continue working with these miserable conditions due to a lack of other options.
That’s why this week is critical for workers across our state. On Wednesday, we expect that a State Wage Board will make its recommendation for a new minimum wage in the fast food sector. We are hoping that the wage board will step up for workers and provide a much-needed wage increase.
The wage board must show that it has heard the voices of workers like me and thousands more who have spoken at the public hearings and rallies across the state and recommend an increase to $15 per hour as soon as possible. And then New York State’s Labor Commissioner, Mario Musolino, must accept the recommendation so that it takes effect.
Large corporations like McDonald’s continue to provide poverty wages while earning billions of dollars each year. The vast majority of fast food workers in New York have to rely on government subsidies to sustain their families because of low wages that are not enough to meet basic needs. Many do not earn enough to pay their rent, while others have to walk miles to work because they have no money for a MetroCard, despite working full-time.
We all deserve a fair chance to succeed, not a minimum wage that guarantees our continued poverty. Therefore, we need the whole community to raise its voice for $15 per hour. If you believe in fair wages, join me at the last meeting of the Wage Board this Wednesday, at 2:30pm, at 90 Church Street. And once we get the recommendation that workers across this state deserve, we must all communicate with Commissioner Musolino to demand the wage increase be adopted.
And when we win the fast food fight, let there be no doubt: we will continue the Fight for $15 in Albany to ensure that all workers in all industries get a fair wage. This week will be a critical step in a larger struggle for all of us.
Paola Angel is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community.
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