Tag Archives: wage

Fast Food Workers Fight for a Raise, a Union, and Dignity at First National Convention

Fast Food Workers Fight for a Raise, a Union, and Dignity at First National Convention

By Alice Speri

July 30, 2014 | 10:55 am

“More than 1,300 workers from all over the US traveled to the outskirts of Chicago over the weekend for what organizers said was the first nationwide fast food workers convention. This gathering in Elmhurst, Illinois was held on the heels of a snowballing movement that has quickly grown from a spontaneous New York City walkout in November 2012 to one of the most significant American labor organizing efforts in recent years.

They came from California and Connecticut, from Kansas City, Little Rock, and more than 50 cities across the country. Most arrived after long, grueling road journeys, some on yellow school buses, and many brought their children along.

Most of the workers were young, but others were in their 40s and 50s, “career” fast food workers, who have spent decades in the industry. They were overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, but not only. Some were part-time students, a few had college degrees, and many held two or three different fast food jobs at the same time.

All photos by Alice Speri.

They came carrying banners from regional chapters and wearing shirts saying “Can’t survive on $7.25” and “We are worth more.” And they brought two demands: pay of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

“Look around,” Mya Hill, an organizer from Detroit, told a roaring room packed with fired-up workers on Friday night, as the two-day event kicked off. “This is what a union looks like.”

First Victories
With most of them making the $7.25 federal minimum wage or just a few dimes more, fast food employees have become one of the most outspoken groups of low-wage workers in the country. While some politicians — including President Obama — have begun debating raising the minimum wage across the board to $10.10, the fast food workers’ bolder demand for $15 has quickly become the rallying cry for a movement that is promising to spread across industries.

“It’s time to stop paying us poverty wages, people are sick of it, everyone in this room is sick of it. We can’t live like this, it’s time for a change,” Shantel Walker, 32, a Brooklyn fast food worker for more than 15 years, told VICE News. “We work for multibillion dollar people. A little dollar, two, three, is nothing to them. They throw away money every day. When someone doesn’t eat their food, they throw it away. That’s basically our money in the garbage can.”

Shantel Walker, a fast food worker from Brooklyn said: ‘It’s time to stop paying us poverty wages, people are sick of it, everyone in this room is sick of it.’

Critics have slammed the $15 an hour demand as utopian, entitled, and economically senseless. But as Americans have started to awaken to the widening inequality in the country, the call for a fair wage has begun to gather traction. “We’re all people,” Walker added. “We have rights.”

Representatives for several fast food chains, including Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s, did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News on the convention and the workers’ demands.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s did not respond to interview requests or address questions on the impact of the fast food movement and whether its executives are taking the workers’ calls into consideration, but did release a statement.

“McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on small and medium business owners is manageable,” spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said.

“Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of ‘full time’ employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses owners.”

But despite some skepticism, the fast food workers’ movement has already reaped some important victories.

In June, Seattle’s city council voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 — a move that is also being debated in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. So far, more than 6.7 million workers have seen their wages increase since the fast food workers’ movement started.

And in a decision with potentially massive consequences, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is the “joint employer” for workers at its franchised stores — meaning the corporation will no longer be able to brush off workers’ complaints (and lawsuits) by putting all the blame on its franchisees. It could also be held responsible for unfair labor practices at its thousands of restaurants, including threatening to or firing workers for organizing.

“Like other fast-food franchisors, McDonald’s is trying to have it both ways when it comes to its relationship with employees working in stores bearing its name,” labor law scholar Michael Fischl said in a statement following the decision. “On the one hand, in order to protect its ‘brand,’ the Mother Ship micromanages virtually every aspect of day-to-day operations, from food preparation to customer service, and everything in between. On the other hand, in order to circumvent the rights of its employees under the National Labor Relations Act, it proclaims that it is ‘shocked, shocked’ that anyone would think it actually exerts such extensive control over its franchised stores,” Fischl continued.

“The General Counsel’s determination to treat McDonald’s as a ‘joint employer’ suggests that going forward the NLRB will be paying more attention to what franchisors are doing than to what they are saying they do.”

Predictably, the ruling outraged critics of organized labor, with Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for the National Restaurant Association, telling the New York Times that the decision “overturns 30 years of established law regarding the franchise model in the United States.”

Tuesday’s ruling came after the Chicago convention, but workers there were already celebrating their first big successes.

“What you are doing right now is the most important workers’ movement in America today,” congressman Keith Ellison — and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — told workers on Saturday. “Millions of people across the country are looking at what you’re doing here in Chicago.”

Mary Kay Henry

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, also praised the workers. The union, which represents its members from a variety of service sectors, backed the convention and offered financial and organizational support — leading some critics to dismiss the event as an attempt to boost union membership.

“The people in this room tonight have changed our country,” Henry told Friday’s boisterous crowd. “When this movement started 21 months ago with the first strike in New York, people thought $15 an hour was a fantasy. They laughed at you. But now, because of your courage and your hard work, it will become a reality.”

Yet despite the wins, fast food employees face an uphill battle.

“It’s going to take a long time. You’re going back to your workplace after this and it’s not gonna happen overnight,” Justin Jones, a 23-year-old organizer from Orlando, told a group of workers in a breakout session. “This is gonna be a fight, it’s gonna be hard.”

“I’m pretty sure they’re gonna make it as tough on us as they can,” he told VICE News later, adding that he has already been turned away from many restaurants — including the world’s largest McDonald’s, in Orlando — for speaking with staff.

But the convention, Jones hopes, will boost workers’ morale and show them they are not in the fight alone.

“We wanted workers to come together and be motivated so when they go back to their cities they can share stories and be like, ‘Hey, this is a real big thing, they’re not playing,'” he said. “It’s a movement and it’s not going anywhere. These guys are serious, they’re for real.”

Birth of a Union
Just 21 months ago, most of the workers who packed into the convention center had no idea they could even protest cuts to their hours and late paychecks without getting fired.

Darrell Roper, 51, who works at a Burger King on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, did some research of his own after an organizer approached him outside the store two years ago. He was surprised to learn that he had a right to organize with other workers, as long as it was not on the clock.

“Most people don’t know that, that’s what it is. They’re weary because they don’t have any information,” he told VICE News, adding that he now talks to other workers — and has come under scrutiny from his managers for doing so. “What I learned gave me the heart and the audacity to want to participate, knowing that my employer can’t hold that against me.”

Darrell Roper

That sense of newly discovered empowerment was palpable across the convention hall, where many said they would have never dreamed to find themselves just months ago.

“When I first heard about it, I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of skeptical. I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna lose my job, I’m gonna get in trouble,’” Douglesha Nicholson, a 23-year-old Pizza Hut worker from Kansas City, told VICE News. But after the first strike, she was sold.

“It was a big rush of adrenaline, going out and being able to yell without the risk of being fired. Just to let you know ‘Hey, I’m here, this is what I’m demanding, this is what I want,’” Nicholsonsaid. “We’re here to educate other fast food workers who may be skeptical about it, to let them know that we have their back.”

Sitting at a table with workers from Detroit, Brooklyn, and Wisconsin, Nicholson and her partner Marcus Stove, 24, who works at Wendy’s and whatever other odd jobs he is able to find, they compared wages and managers. Nicholson and Stove have four children together — “four and a half,” he joked, as they are expecting their fifth in September — and have long searched for but have never been able to find anything better than their fast food jobs.

“I can’t feed five kids on $7.25,” Stove said. “I’m here for the $15. I’m here to get that money.”

“We all have children,” Nicholson, whose oldest son is seven and wants to be a Pizza Hut driver when he grows up, told the other workers at the table. “I’m here because we are human beings.”

Douglesha Nicholson and Marcus Stove

At other tables, workers from different cities also compared paychecks and traded stories of payments that came weeks late, frying burns, and customers throwing shakes at them through drive-through windows. For the workers, including many leaving their hometowns for the first time, it was a powerful experience.

“Especially in the South, a lot of people are not used to this, they don’t really have knowledge of what a union is, there aren’t a lot of strikes going on,” said Jones, the Orlando organizer. “Here, you are seeing strangers, from other states, races, and belief systems, who have the same issues as you, and it gives you common ground. It’s not just you, it’s other states that all have the same issues. It’s unifying. It’s pretty awesome.”

That was precisely the point of the convention, workers and organizers said: To unite workers and capitalize on the momentum of a movement that has already staged some of the most widespread strikes in recent history, turning the “Fight for $15” chant from a utopian slogan into a reality for some.

But the workers who gathered here also adopted a resolution at the end of the convention that pledged further action — including more strikes, sit-ins, and even soup kitchens outside their stores — “to make sure everyone knows their employees don’t make enough to eat,” one worker suggested.

And many of these employees want a union as much as a raise.

“Right now, people who are working in fast food, their rights are being trampled. The union is not just for job security, it’s to protect your rights,” Roper said. “Without a union, I can’t negotiate with management. It’s their way or no way.”

History of the Movement
The sometimes rowdy convention was heavy on hope and civil rights rhetoric, as workers discussed civil disobedience and watched videos of early workers’ movements. Speaker after speaker reminded those in the room that they were “making history.”

“I’m inspired by what you are doing,” Reverend William Barber II, head of the North CarolinaNAACP, told the workers at the beginning of a long sermon. “You are in a fight to change America and you need to stay in that fight.” At its national convention, last week, the civil rights group voted unanimously to endorse the Fight for $15 campaign.

In fact, this movement has already made history.

It was born almost by accident in New York City, when a couple of hundred workers — “overworked and underpaid” as some of them said — walked off their jobs in November 2012. After that, dozens of people gathered at a Brooklyn Wendy’s to support a young woman who had been fired for protesting. In a domino effect, the strikes started to follow across the country — with a massive, 150-city walk-out in May this year.

Also in May, 101 McDonald’s workers were arrested at a rally outside the company’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. Many of them were at the Chicago convention, where they got a standing ovation, pledged to do it again, and asked for others to follow.

“I tell you, if every one of us in this room goes to jail for civil disobedience, these corporations are gonna have to listen to us,” one of them told the crowd.

“They’re afraid of this movement, they want to keep their workers subjected,” said Roper. “They don’t want the whole store walking out, but there’s gonna come a time when corporate is gonna have to deal with us, they’re gonna have to give in.”

The workers plan to directly take on the executives of the corporations they work for — an effort that will likely be boosted by Tuesday’s ruling.

“If a CEO gets paid 1,000 more times than the average worker, I believe they can pay you a living wage. If the industry can make billions and billions and billions, I believe they can pay you a living wage,” said Barber.

In her speech, Henry listed the total compensation of fast food CEOs — coming to around 1,200 times the minimum wage that workers make.

“I think these CEOs should come into the store, to see how the stores are actually run,” Kristina Bradley, 25, told VICE News. Bradley was fired from a Pittsburgh Chick-fil-A after joining protests, she said.

“My paycheck says $300. My monthly bus pass costs $146. My rent is $450. If I’m making $300, where is my money?” she asked. “They say there’s welfare out there, you should go get food stamps. You think we want to live off the government? Are you serious? We are working.”

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi

Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlights

We Can Predict The Effects Of Seattle’s $15 An Hour Minimum Wage

(my comment in response to Tim Worstall’s first comment)

“That one sentence is the only part of their comment that you deemed worthy of a response, Tim? It surprises me that a Forbes writer would cherry-pick.

Moreover, it’s unfair to categorize those who push for a higher minimum wage as non-evidence based. Evidence is the reason why I think it’s important to raise the wage. From my own experience as well as from verified facts, I have discovered that the current minimum wage in Seattle (and in the US) is not live-able. I currently make $12/hr at a full time office job in Seattle, which is well above the current local & federal minimum. And I can tell you from first hand experience, as a single, college-educated, childless, healthy adult, I am barely making ends meet. I have $20 in savings right now and have to live with a roommate to afford housing. When I was living in Kentucky last year, I made the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr which was even harder to live off of. I was on food stamps for a year and still couldn’t pay all my own bills.

Grokpie made some very excellent points in their comment and I would be interested to hear your response to them.

Historically, “while the laws governing wages initially set a ceiling on compensation, they were eventually used to set a living wage. An amendment to the Statute of Labourers in 1389 effectively fixed wages to the price of food. As the centuries passed, the Justice of the Peace, who was charged with setting the maximum wage, also began to set formal minimum wages. The practice was eventually formalized with the passage of the Act Fixing a Minimum Wage in 1604 by King James I for workers in the textile industry…

The first national minimum wage law was enacted by the government of New Zealand in 1894, followed by Australia in 1896 and Great Britain in 1909. In the United States, statutory minimum wages were first introduced nationally in 1938, and reintroduced and expanded in the United Kingdom in 1998. There is now legislation or binding collective bargaining regarding minimum wage in more than 90% of all countries.” (Wikipedia, Minimum Wage)

The minimum wage in the US is no longer live-able and has not been for a while now. It hasn’t kept pace with productivity since the 70s, and it hasn’t kept pace with inflation since the 80s. (CEPR)

According to the EPI:
“On average nationwide, working families with two parents and two children require an income of $48,778 to meet the family budget. In major urban areas, expenses for this four-person family range from $42,106 in Oklahoma City to $71,913 in Nassau/Suffolk, N.Y.; families in small towns and rural areas start from a low of $35,733 in Marshall County, Miss. to $73,345 in Nantucket and Dukes Counties, Mass.

Much of the regional variation in family budgets is pushed by price differences in just a few items: housing, health care, and child care…

Family budgets calculated by EPI represent the pre-tax (taxes are included as a budget category) annual family income required to maintain a safe but modest standard of living.”

In Seattle, specifically, the living wage for a family of the same size (2 parents, 2 children) is $19.63/hr which is $40,829 annually (MIT calculator). That is lower than the federal family budget average and yet still exponentially higher than the $15/hr minimum wage raise.

Is that enough evidence for you?”


EDIT: And the plot thickens! My comment got “called-out” by Tim, although he did not respond to it. Instead another commentator made the below remarks:


Your own personal experience can hardly be considered “evidence-based”.
Do you own a car? Do you have cable? Do you have a cell phone? I’d argue, rather strongly, that if you can’t make ends meet on minimum wage, it is because of your inability to manage your personal funds. I’ll bet you have no problem going out on the town with friends on weekends and absolutely zero problem finding funds for $3 beers at the bar.

You see, I have been poor (I made $12k a year my first job in 2002) and I managed just fine. I had a beat up car, no phone, no cable, etc., but I more than survived. Many of my friends grew up poor (minimum wage while going to college). Every single one had no problem affording the nice things in life (new cars, the latest cell phones, flat screen tvs, etc.), however, they could never seem to “make ends meet” with their bills. Then, they wanted to complain that they weren’t making enough. Hmm, I wonder why.

As for “family” minimum wage, we, as a society, shouldn’t have to pay for your personal choices. If you make the decision to have a child and raise that child, you should be responsible enough to afford that child. All decisions have consequences. That’s a concept that is lost on this/my generation.

All of the personal examples aside, you’re completely ignoring the effects on society. You think a $15/hr minimum wage is a good thing? Businesses are already bracing by automating services and outsourcing. Then you wonder why when you call customer service, you talk to someone who can barely speak English. I’ll bet that the shirt you’re wearing right now wasn’t even made in America (or your desk that you’re at). You want to complain about wages then turn around and support outsourcing at a cheaper price so long as you benefit. How many families can barely afford things as is will be out of a job because of the transition you’re so ardent in supporting? You don’t care about them do you because it’s ok for a few to perish as long as more get a better deal, right? Such immorality….”


My response:

“I, too, have a “beat up” car. It is covered in dents and scratches (my driver’s side mirror just fell off the other day). And, before you attack my driving skills, all the damage was not my fault. I haven’t gotten a ticket since 2006. I even had to wear out my tires until they were almost bald before I could get new ones. I do not have cable. I did not even pay for internet while I was living in KY, and I didn’t even own a tv. My cell phone I use is also for my job and I bought it for $50 off of Amazon. It’s my only phone line, I do not pay for hard lines in my apartment. Don’t make assumptions about my life, I made $8k in 2013. Please tell me how that is live-able. And it was not my “first job”, I’ve been in the work force since 2005. I made more per hour in high school than I did just last year.

Additionally, there are many reasons why people have children then later realize they can’t support them. Maybe they were more financially stable when they decided to reproduce (think of families who are affected by natural disasters every year and lose everything). Maybe they don’t have access to sex education or birth control (researchers have found that teens who received comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or to get someone pregnant than those who received no sex education). Maybe one parent died and had failed to set up a life insurance account. Maybe the children are a result of sexual assault. There are many reasons.

Businesses embracing automated services is not a bad thing. We are in the middle of a Technological Revolution. The same thing happened in the Industrial Revolution: machines replaced human workers. I look at it as “trimming the fat.” The “fat” being the enormous profits that company executives get by not paying their workers living wages.

Again, don’t make assumptions about my life. On a daily basis, I strive to source all the products I buy from either local businesses or businesses with clear, thoughtful business practices. I am actually at the moment trying to find a way to buy locally-processed and American grown coffee beans. I also buy from Etsy all the time, for example.

Please don’t call me immoral when you don’t know me.”


Their response:

“We aren’t talking about your past life. We’re talking about now. You pay for internet, etc. and you claim to still be having trouble with making ends meet. I’ve got a tip, give up the net for starters.

If you made 8k, you weren’t working full-time (choice). Not liveable? hmm, you seem to be typing just fine. I’m supposing that you are alive (and contradicting your thesis). I did a few of my friends’ taxes and with their refund they made over 30k in govt benefits/refund/income etc. despite making “minimum wage”. So I’m really doubting your personal story, because I’ve seen and experienced far different first hand. Fortunately, I decided at a very young age that I would work my way through college to get out of poverty rather than seeking for others to get it for me. Heck, I even started my own business.

Just about every city in the US has planned parenthood and each location gives out as many free condoms as you can handle. Of course, you always have the option of not having sex. Either way, you make a decision and you have to live with the respective consequences.

I didn’t comment on your coffee. I commented on your clothing and desk. Hmm, more expensive coffee and products from a more expensive website. I just found two non-necessary items (in addition to your internet) adding to your problem of not being able to make ends meet. It’s now reasonable safe to conclude that there is a laundry list of items that you pay for that you could eliminate. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t, on the one hand, say you can’t make ends meet and then on the other claim you’re paying for goods that are more expensive.

Either way, that doesn’t explain how I was able to live on 12k a year and you’re somehow unable to survive on $12 an hour (even though I’ve uncovered the root cause).

As for outsourcing and technology. You dont care that they are displacing workers? You’re being awful contradictory. You want people to have more, but don’t care if they don’t have jobs?”


My response:

“You spoke about your past life, and so I provided my past life as an example. I pay $20 a month for internet now, yes, which I could feasibly cut out of my budget. The internet is a vital part of contemporary life, however, and without it, I would be disconnected from friends, family, and potential job openings and further education. What about taking online college classes? I’m trying to get a better future.

I was not working full time for the entirety of 2013, that is true. For 7 of the 12 months, I was working full time. For the other five, I was looking and applying for jobs and juggling multiple part-time gigs. It was not live-able, I had to rely on my parents for financial support which I hated doing.

This year, I had my taxes done by free tax preparers at United Way. I will ask them next time if they can get me the $30k you got your friends. Maybe you should do my taxes next year. I also worked my way through high school and college, but I’m sorry to hear that you think I am lying.

I provided coffee as an example of how I’m constantly looking for better sources for my products. My clothing that I’m currently wearing are free finds, Goodwill finds, and Ebay finds. My desk at home was handmade by a student of my mother’s back in the 90s.

You criticize me for supporting “outsourcing at a cheaper price so long as you benefit.” Then you turn around and criticize me for paying more (a difference of a few dollars) to not outsource? Your logic seems contradictory to me.

When adjusted for inflation, your $12k income from 2002 is worth $15,539.10 in 2013 dollars. That is significantly more than my $8k from 2013. Living costs also hugely vary depending on where you live. Now that I make $12/hr I can actually pay all my bills every month, but there’s very little left over. The little money I do have left at the end of the month goes to things like tires for my car, food, household items, and, yes, the occasional $3 beer and garment from Ebay/Goodwill. I said in my first comment that I am “barely making ends meet,” not “can’t.”

I never said I don’t care about displacing workers. I obviously care by trying to buy American-made products. I want people to be paid more for the jobs they should have in the US.

In terms of technology, there’s an overwhelming need to invest more money and human labor in non-manufacture jobs. It is no longer necessary to have human workers take your order at McDonalds, for human workers to package your Amazon purchase, for human workers to assemble cars, and so on and so forth. This trend has been developing for the last few decades, think of the automobile industry crash in Detroit. Human labor is now being channeled toward thought-producing work: technological innovation, research, education, the arts.”


Their response:

“Vital? No. You simply think it is. How would you connect with friends, family, job openings, etc.? Hmm, you did say you have a phone. Online courses? Why not just take them in person like most traditional students?

You had the support of your parents. Ok, so it was liveable then. I remember having roommates to split bills up.

Odd, but I have more than ten employees making just under $10 an hour and none/zero/nadda have problems making ends meet. I’m very close with all of them and none of them complain. Oddly enough only two don’t have new cars. My friends have troubles, but they are self-inflicted.

Also I never said I got them 30K, I said their total income including benefits/income/refund were 30k despite being min. wage workers.”


My response:

“How would I find job openings that weren’t in newspapers/print without the internet? I can call to apply and interview, but only if I already knew they had an opening. The internet also allows me to do research on the company before my interview so that I can go in knowing who they are and what they do (which is a huge bonus in employer’s eyes). Taking online courses instead of in-person is necessary if you have a full time job to go to everyday as well.

I had a roommate for 3 months of 2013. They then moved to another city to pursue a career. And I have a roommate now.

Where do your employees live? Are they married? And, have you actually asked them about their financial concerns? It’s possible they don’t feel comfortable talking to you about their financial struggles. Your opinions on the subject would at least deter me from talking to you about my own struggles.

And even if it was $30k total instead of $30k extra, I would still like to have the $30k total. Can you do my taxes next year?”


Thank you to all the readers that have made it this far. I know it’s a lot to absorb, but I think it’s a very important discussion that should be available to the public. The issues and concerns covered above are very common in the minimum wage debate and it’s important to educate ourselves based on evidence and verified facts.

I didn’t get a response to my last comment, but a different commentator did chime in with:

“So someone in Seattle is supposed to nix the internet and then rely on their phone? Do you know what year it is? What got me my last job (in Seattle) was my linkedin profile… I have been turned down for a job because I didn’t own a cellphone, they want to be able to contact you 24/7…

One last question @Kalani how old are you? You keep saying you didn’t have this and that and whatnot but is that because those things didn’t exist?? The game is changing, new playing field and new rules.”

Lovelypnw, I would like to thank you for contributing. And I would also like to say the following in conclusion:


To Kalani & Tim Worstall,

Have I provided enough evidence for you? Did I provide enough information about my life to effectively prove that I deserve to be paid a living wage? Does everyone that makes under $15/hr in Seattle and under $10/hr in the US have to prove to you that they deserve to live a comfortable, secure life?

The Declaration of Independence says that we, as American citizens, have the right to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have the right to life, and that includes security. We have a right to liberty, and that includes not being in debt up to our eyeballs because we chose to pursue further education and yet don’t earn enough to pay back the debts. And we have the right to pursue happiness, and that includes being financially sound. We’re not asking for wealth, we’re asking for equilibrium.

My roommate was recently laid off because Trader Joe’s didn’t want to give her the 6-month raise that’s in her contract. She had worked there for two years and had gotten raises every 6 months, but, once it was time for her fourth raise, they instead put her on probation for being one minute late for her shift and refused her the raise. She stayed for another 6 months and yet again they found a minuscule reason to refuse her her raise. She was being paid $11/hr while at Trader Joe’s, but there was not much left at the end of the month after bills and so she had little to live on after her termination. She has now been unemployed for two months and she’s been looking and applying for jobs every day. We’ve even gone through the process of getting utility bill assistance from the city of Seattle and yet she still had to borrow money from her mother for the last two months of rent.

How can we pursue happiness when we can’t even pay our bills? Our rent is $1085 a month for a 800 sq. ft. two-bedroom apartment about 20 minutes outside the city. It was the cheapest we could find. We have shootings and robberies that happen mere blocks from us. We don’t have cable. We have a free tv from 2001 that has a VHS player. We pay $20 a month for internet. Yes, we have cell phones, but we don’t have land lines. We both have beat up cars, both 2000 and 2001 models (her’s won’t even start some days). We buy our clothes from Ebay and Goodwill. We buy groceries at Costco. We cook all our meals, we rarely eat out. All of our furniture is either hand-me-downs from my parents or bought on Craigslist.

I don’t know what else I can tell you to convince you that this is not a sustainable live style. We don’t have any buffer from crises. What happens if one of us has a medical emergency? What happens if our car gets hit while it’s parked on the street and no one leaves a note? What happens if our computer crashes? These things happen, and while, yes, we’re still alive, we are a few crises away from being homeless. My roommate was actually homeless for a few months last year because she couldn’t afford a one bedroom apartment by herself and couldn’t find a roommate to help with the bills. She subleased the apartment she had and couch-surfed for two months.

Even all the personal evidence aside, I have also provided the economic reasons based on inflation rates, productivity rates, and government figures. Please, tell me what more evidence you need.

Leave a comment

June 4, 2014 · 5:09 pm

Apparently people don’t understand math.

I’ve said it elsewhere and I’ll say it again:

No longer is living on the minimum wage a viable option. According to government figures, the annual cost of food, shelter, clothing, and utilities for a family of four is $23,050. You would have to make at least $11.50/hr. (http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/12computations.shtml)

Raising minimum wage is not a band-aid. It’s an economic necessity. If we want to lessen income disparity, the solution is easy: restore the minimum wage to levels considered reasonable in 1969.

If you go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator and plug in $1.60 (the minimum wage in 1969) and select the year 1969, you find that in 2012 dollars the minimum wage should be $10 per hour if it were to match the rate considered “reasonable” in 1969, when the nation was significantly less wealthy and much less productive (http://www.oftwominds.com/blogmay12/restore-min-wage5-12.html)

Leave a comment

Filed under Scribbles, Spotlights

Need a Job? Invent It


Published: March 30, 2013

“WHEN Tony Wagner, the Harvard education specialist, describes his job today, he says he’s “a translator between two hostile tribes” — the education world and the business world, the people who teach our kids and the people who give them jobs. Wagner’s argument in his book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” is that our K-12 and college tracks are not consistently “adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace.”

This is dangerous at a time when there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job — the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation. Now there is only a high-wage, high-skilled job. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried — made obsolete — faster than ever. Which is why the goal of education today, argues Wagner, should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready” — ready to add value to whatever they do.

That is a tall task. I tracked Wagner down and asked him to elaborate. “Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”

 My generation had it easy. We got to “find” a job. But, more than ever, our kids will have to “invent” a job. (Fortunately, in today’s world, that’s easier and cheaper than ever before.) Sure, the lucky ones will find their first job, but, given the pace of change today, even they will have to reinvent, re-engineer and reimagine that job much more often than their parents if they want to advance in it. If that’s true, I asked Wagner, what do young people need to know today?

“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” he said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”

So what should be the focus of education reform today?

“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”

What does that mean for teachers and principals?

“Teachers,” he said, “need to coach students to performance excellence, and principals must be instructional leaders who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need ‘Accountability 2.0.’ All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication, which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students’ work through the year — instead of a score on a bubble test in May. We need lab schools where students earn a high school diploma by completing a series of skill-based ‘merit badges’ in things like entrepreneurship. And schools of education where all new teachers have ‘residencies’ with master teachers and performance standards — not content standards — must become the new normal throughout the system.”

Who is doing it right?

“Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world,” he said, “and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’  They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of ‘reinvented’ colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the ‘D-school’ at Stanford where students learn to innovate.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 31, 2013, on page SR11 of the New York edition with the headline: Need a Job? Invent It.”

Leave a comment

April 1, 2013 · 4:56 pm

The No-Limits Job

Deidre Schoo for The New York Times

For her long days, Casey McIntyre, 28, a book publicist, relies on “large coffees.”


March 1, 2013


“Every generation has its own anthem of making the journey from youthful naïveté to adult reality, whether it’s Neil Young’s “Old Man,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or most recently, perhaps, the Taylor Swift song “22.”

“Tonight’s the night when we forget about the deadlines,” it goes. “It feels like one of those nights, we won’t be sleeping.”

If only it were as easy for Ms. Swift’s less affluent contemporaries to blow off their deadlines as it is for the singer-songwriter (now a slightly more seasoned 23). Sleepless nights are more likely because they are on the clock, not at the club.

“If I’m not at the office, I’m always on my BlackBerry,” said Casey McIntyre, 28, a book publicist in New York. “I never feel like I’m totally checked out of work.”

Ms. McIntyre is just one 20-something — a population historically exploitable as cheap labor — learning that long hours and low pay go hand in hand in the creative class. The recession has been no friend to entry-level positions, where hundreds of applicants vie for unpaid internships at which they are expected to be on call with iPhone in hand, tweeting for and representing their company at all hours.

“We need to hire a 22-22-22,” one new-media manager was overheard saying recently, meaning a 22-year-old willing to work 22-hour days for $22,000 a year. Perhaps the middle figure is an exaggeration, but its bookends certainly aren’t. According to a 2011 Pew report, the median net worth for householders under 35 dropped by 68 percent from 1984 to 2009, to $3,662. Lest you think that’s a mere side effect of the economic downturn, for those over 65, it rose 42 percent to $170,494 (largely because of an overall gain in property values). Hence 1.2 million more 25-to-34-year-olds lived with their parents in 2011 than did four years earlier.

The young are logging hours, too. In 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time workers ages 20 to 24 put in just 2.1 fewer hours a week than those 25 and over. That’s not a big gap of leisure for the ostensibly freewheeling time in one’s life. Or, to quote Lena Dunham’s 24-year-old aspiring writer in “Girls,” “I am busy trying to become who I am.”

A recent posting by Dalkey Archive Press, an avant-garde publisher in Champaign, Ill., for unpaid interns in its London office encapsulated the outlandish demands on young workers. The stern catalog of grounds for “immediate dismissal” included “coming in late or leaving early without prior permission,” “being unavailable at night or on the weekends” and “failing to respond to e-mails in a timely way.” And “The Steve Wilkos Show” on NBCUniversal recently advertised on Craigslist for a freelance booking production assistant who would work “65+ hours per week” (the listing was later removed after drawing outraged comments when it was linked on jimromenesko.com).

“The notion of the traditional entry-level job is disappearing,” said Ross Perlin, 29, the author of “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy.” Internships have replaced them, he said, “but also fellowships and nebulous titles that sound prestigious and pay a stipend, which means you’re only coming out with $15,000 a year.”

Once a short-term commitment at most, internships have become an obligatory rite of passage that often drags on for years.

“Particularly in some rock-star professions — film and TV and publishing and media — companies are pushing the envelope to see how much they can get out of young people for how low a stipend or salary,” Mr. Perlin said. “And people are desperate enough to break in to do it.”

That’s what Katherine Myers, 27, found when she graduated from college in 2008. After months of searching, she landed a position as a development coordinator at a cable channel in New York.

“I was willing to put up with anything,” she said. “I never took a lunch, I came in early, I worked late.”

Still, her experience was more pleasant than that of two of her friends who successively worked for a major film producer.

“Last year, we threw a surprise birthday party for one, and he had to miss it because his boss called him in to come to a screening,” she said. “For a year we never saw him. He’d get up at 5, be there till 1 a.m., fall asleep at work.”

The other friend left for law school after four months.

“I think she thought it made no sense,” Ms. Myers said. “You have to have a feeling that you’re doing something good for the world, and that’s hard to come up with in some jobs. If you’re a doctor or lawyer, or even in finance, you can justify it. But if you’re in fashion, it’s like, ‘Oh, boy, who cares?’ ”

But Ms. Myers, now in a higher-ranking position at the Web site CollegeHumor, is committed to her field, as is Cathy Pitoun, 25. Two years ago, as a production assistant at a Culver City, Calif., company that cuts movie trailers, Ms. Pitoun earned $10 an hour with no benefits (though an overtime bonus), with rotating weekend work. After six months she was promoted to a position “where one dropped ball could get you fired,” she noted, and a raise to $12 an hour with benefits. She estimated that she worked at least 60 hours a week.

“There were days where I stayed until 4 a.m. just to send out one TV spot to one client in Japan and then had to come in 4 hours later for a whole new day,” Ms. Pitoun said. “And days where I had to be at work at 5 a.m. to do voice-over sessions with actors in Europe to make up for the time change and still stay until 9 at night.”

Her investment, like Ms. Myers’s, paid off: she’s now the assistant to the chief executive, though she knows that the path to producing, her long-term goal, “will get worse before it gets better,” she said.

Ms. Pitoun’s job surely would have been less demanding in the pre-Internet and smartphone age. If she ever turned off her phone for a few hours, her in-box would be flooded with e-mails or missed calls and texts.

“I had to be reachable 100 percent of the time on an on-call weekend,” she said, “so I would usually use those weekends to do chores around my apartment and wait for the phone to ring.”

The assignment could be as small as coming in to send one e-mail and as onerous as digitizing footage for 15 hours.

Ms. McIntyre, the book publicist, estimated that she receives 300 to 400 e-mails a day and tries to answer at least 80 percent. How does she summon the energy for this incessant typing, not to mention 16-hour days traveling with authors on tour?

“I have coffee before I leave the house, there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts conveniently in the subway station when I get off, and I get another coffee during the day,” she said. “And they’re large coffees.”

Complicating matters is the fact that it is not yet known how to quantify or define digital work. Forget e-mail.

“Is a tweet labor? Is a Facebook post labor?” Mr. Perlin, the author, asked.

Ironically, millennials, to whom the burden of monitoring late-night social media or e-mail frequently falls, may be underestimating the value of such work. Their habits of consuming culture free of charge on the Internet, he suggested, have “carried over into the world of work, so they’re more willing to accept barter or in-kind payment,” like free lunches. And their primary payment is building “cultural capital,” as opposed to “capital capital.”

In these “rock star” professions, too, notably in the business-casual Silicon Valley, many companies “have tried to break down the homogenizing nightmare of the 1950s,” Mr. Perlin said, replacing cubicles with foosball tables and other dorm-room accouterments to entice employees to stay late bonding with colleagues.

“But we’ve got something more sinister now,” he said. “People are working much more and are convinced to invest themselves body and soul. It tries to make you lose your sense of your workplace versus home: who are your co-workers and who are your friends?”

Children of helicopter parents who have been overscheduled since nursery school might find it especially hard to set professional limits. As part of the generation “that’s been taught to engage in labors of love,” Mr. Perlin said, “it’s led us into these fields, and secondly, it’s encouraged us to knock down that boundary between life and work in the traditional artist mode.”

“You can’t get a job by saying, ‘I just want a job,’ ” he said. “Your heart has to be supposedly in it, and you have to demonstrate that by staying as late as you’re supposed to stay or responding to e-mails at 11 p.m.”

This commitment is what Lucy Schiller, 24, demonstrated over two years in Denver and San Francisco, yet nothing panned out. Ms. Schiller falls into Mr. Perlin’s category of a “serial intern.” While working the 4:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift four days a week for minimum wage at a cafe (where her manager would take half her tips in front of her), she interned, usually for no pay, at five artistic and cultural institutions as she juggled side projects.

They were never lucrative; at one Web site “there was the possibility of being paid $3 per article, but that never materialized,” she said. Her 70 hours of work a week netted her about $500.

On her last day at one job, her 75-year-old supervisor asked her to help move some heavy things in her house. In her garage, the supervisor opened a door from which issued a blinding stream of light.

“It was a huge room filled with her own field of marijuana plants,” Ms. Schiller said. “She conscripted me for no pay to harvest it overnight. She makes $35,000 per crop and it goes straight to her retirement account.”

The intern’s payment the next morning: a breakfast burrito.

At her other positions, Ms. Schiller said, she worked “extremely hard and wrote a lot, and it pays off in some way, but the fact is, it doesn’t pay off in the immediate sense.” Her parents, initially excited at her prospects, grew worried with each additional internship, a cycle she feared was portraying her “as wishy-washy or not viable for paid labor.” In January, she moved back home to Urbana, Ill., to save money and apply for jobs — presumably not at nearby Dalkey Archive Press.

Mr. Perlin pointed out that “some studies show that people in their 20s work eight or nine jobs in that period, which economists see as a good thing, but they aren’t looking at the stress and personal toll it takes.”

Ms. Myers’s parents, too, “appreciate and encourage me, but they’re baffled by” her career in entertainment, she said.

“They don’t think that I’m on a track,” she said. “They think there’s no point unless you’re making money.

“It’s a legit question,” she continued. “I’m going to turn 30 in the next few years, and it’s hard to be young and feel like the gap is so big between my station in this industry and others who are doing so well in it. To get up every morning, I have to think that I’ll be one of those people. But I happen to be a delusionally positive person.””

Leave a comment

March 3, 2013 · 6:24 pm