The following is by Brittney Lee, a Richmond-area fast-food and home care worker in the Fight for $15 campaign. Brittney is a 24 year-old African-American mother working 55 hours a week for less than $8 an hour. Brittney’s been in fast food for over two years and recently had to pick up a second job as a home care worker just to afford simple childhood pleasures for her son, Ahmod, like daycare field trips. Brittney has been a part of the Fight for $15 for two years now, and in her piece she not only argues for higher wages for Richmond workers, she makes a strong case for union rights too. African-American union workers earn $24.24 an hour on average, compared to $17.78 for their non-union counterparts. African-American women earn 37 percent more than non-union workers and males earned 35 percent more than African-American males not in a union. Brittney is just one of the thousands of Richmond workers that could benefit from stronger unions across the country. This Richmond strike is part of a national campaign from the Fight for $15 and SEIU to elect pro-worker politicians in 2017 and 2018.
After my son, Ahmod, was born four years ago, I’d wake up every morning wondering if I was doing enough to provide for him.
Most mornings I’m out the door by 6 a.m. to get to my first job at Wendy’s. After my 10-hour shift there, I catch the bus to my second job as a home care aide, helping an elderly couple until their overnight aide arrives. After that, I rush to make it home so I can spend one hour with my son before his bedtime.
This hustle, getting to daycare, getting to work, getting to my other job and then rushing home without time to eat, is not unfamiliar to working parents. I had to take on my home care job so I could afford Ahmod’s field trip to the zoo this summer. Neither job pays me more than $8 an hour, but I do it every day because it’s how I can make ends meet.
The price of it all is too high. The sacrifices I make as a working mother are hard on me and even harder on Ahmod. Because of all the hours I work, there’s hardly ever time to just be a family. He’s growing up fast and needs his mother around.
Everything I do—I do for my son. And this Labor Day I’m going on strike to demand $15 an hour, union rights, and, ultimately, a better life for Ahmod. The system has got to change for the sake of working families and the future of our children. Workers need to make a living wage and we need respect on the job. The only way that’s going to happen is with a union.
This won’t be the first time I have walked off the job. Two years ago, I went on strike for the first time with the Fight for $15, the national movement to raise pay and win union rights. For the longest time, I thought Ahmod and I were on our own, with no support system. But when the Fight for $15 held its first convention in Richmond last year, I met people like me from across the country. We work full time but our paychecks come up short. Some of us are in debt, borrowing money just to put food on the table. Some of us only see our kids in-between shifts.
I’m going to strike for higher pay and union rights because I know it gets results. Since I joined the Fight for $15, I have seen the minimum wage go up in big states and small towns across the country. Here in Virginia, Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam has made raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour part of his platform. But right now we’re still stuck at $7.25 an hour. Workers who won their raises didn’t wait for politicians grant them $15 – they went on strike, told their stories and organized to win. Their success is inspiring. That, and my son, is what motivates me. In Richmond, we can transform low-wage work into good jobs, but only if we fight for the right to stand together.
In our city, union rights would lift thousands of Black families like mine out of poverty. I’ve witnessed the way Black parents get trapped in low paying jobs that don’t provide health care or time off. There are so many mothers in Richmond who are working full-time and barely scraping by. Having a union would be life changing.
Joining together with workers across the country this Labor Day is the only way I can make sure my son grows up with more opportunities than I had. I want him to experience field trips with his class and swimming birthday parties, and also get time with his mother. I want him to be proud that I was brave enough to march in the streets. I want him to know that I won’t stop fighting for his future.