Fast-food workers nationwide went on strike on February 16th to demand a raise in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Thousands of employees from the country’s most popular franchises, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell, departed their workplaces early that morning and took to the streets to take a stand against corporate exploitation. The strike, which occurred in a symbolic 15 cities across the country, was organized by a social justice group named “Fight for $15” to advocate for workers’ welfare and union rights. Ultimately, participants and organizers hoped the event would shed light on the disproportionate ramifications of the minimum wage on communities of color.
Currently, the federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour. This amount has remained stagnant since 2009, the longest period it has gone without a raise since its creation in 1939. With inflation, this wage has declined in value by 17 percent since it was first raised to $7.25 in 2009. In that same period, the cost of living in the United States has increased by approximately 20 percent. Because of this stagnation, millions of minimum-wage workers live from paycheck to paycheck, often unable to provide for themselves and their families. According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour would lift nearly one million Americans out of poverty and raise wages for millions of employees.
The date of the strike was no coincidence. The Fight for $15 group consciously aligned the event with Black History Month to highlight marginalized workers who have suffered a history of exploitation and low pay. According to a recent assessment by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 20 percent of the 39 million minimum wage fast-food employees in the U.S. are Black, despite representing only 13 percent of the country’s population. In a video statement shared by Fight for $15, McDonald’s worker Taiwanna Milligan shared, “McDonald’s has made billions in profit off the backs of Black workers like me, paying us starvation wages.” She continued, “I need at least $15 an hour to survive and because I know the only way to make change is to stand up, speak out and demand it.”
This effort joins mounting pressure against the Biden-Harris administration to raise the federal minimum wage. Central to his campaign plan to combat racial economic inequality, President Joe Biden pledged to incorporate a $15 federal minimum wage into his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. This provision, however, is contentious and is facing significant pushback from economists and lawmakers who believe that it would negatively impact the federal deficit. Nonetheless, progressive lawmakers like House Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont are determined to pass the legislation. The stakes are high at a time when low-wage workers, especially people of color, have faced disproportionate impacts of the pandemic.
Situated in an affluent town where fast-food chains are expressly prohibited, Concord Academy may be physically removed from the reality workers like Milligan endure on a daily basis. Nonetheless, CA is comprised of a community willing to fight for a more just and equitable future. Refusing to patronize businesses that do not pay their employees a living wage may be the first step students can take to enact change.