This Labor Day I’m going on strike with tens of thousands of non-union workers in health care, fast food, higher education, airports and other service industries from across the country to demand union rights for all. In a time where we have an administration that attacks women and people of color and wants to keep the poor in poverty we must unite so that we can take back our jobs and ensure that we all can enjoy protections in the workplace whether we are working in corporate America or the fast food industry.
I first began working in fast food four years ago. When I’m not attending class at Farr Academy I’m working two fast food jobs – McDonald’s and Burger King – making $11 an hour. Although I work two jobs I’m often on the honor roll. Unlike those who are my age I do not live at home with my parents, but instead I live with a family friend and her five children.
I work in fast food not because I want to but because I have to in order to support not only myself but my newborn daughter, too. And, I work two jobs not by choice but because I don’t receive enough hours at either job to cover my basic needs to support my family. With each paycheck that I earn I have to stretch. It goes towards my necessities that get me through each week such as food, transportation, diapers, and my phone bill–and where possible contribute what I can towards the household bills.
Over the course of my pregnancy it became even more evident how much I need a union and why they are necessary in low paying jobs. At some point we all will face either personal or family emergencies. During my pregnancy there were days I had to take a day off from work for a doctor visit or because I wasn’t feel well. Each day off was a day without pay because my job does not provide paid leave.
If I had a union fighting for me it would provide me with job security and benefits that should be afforded those working in low paying jobs. Unions have been the path for millions of families to the middle class. It has consistently been the voice for the voiceless. Unions level the playing field for those, like me, who are disproportionately represented in low paying jobs–people of color, women, and immigrants. Women alone make up more than half of the workers making less than $15 an hour.
I work alongside mothers and grandmothers who are the head of their households. And like me we have to make the tough choices whenever our loved ones become sick, deciding whether to go to work or miss a day’s pay. Low wages holds back our communities and unpaid leave cripples our families.
Underpaid workers deserve to have a voice that will fight for higher wages, fair scheduling and paid leave. And so on Labor Day, fast food workers will kick off the day, partnering with community leaders and allies with actions across the country demonstrating the need for winning a $15 an hour minimum wage and union rights for the 64 million underpaid Americans.
Christina Barnes is a member of the Fight for 15. She lives in Dorchester.