On May 15 I woke up at 4:30 AM. I. AM. NOT. A. MORNING. PERSON.
I rolled out of bed (like a zombie), put on my clergy collar, and walked to one of my congregations to meet up with a few parishioners before heading downtown to begin marching in the freezing rain around the Rock N Roll McDonalds.
Why on earth would I do this, you ask?
To stand in solidarity with thousands of fast-food workers around the world. On Thursday, May 15, fast-food workers from over 150 cities across the country and about 30 other countries began to strike, demanding a wage increase to $15 an hour and the ability to form a union without the fear of retaliation.
Why support these demands?
Because fast-food workers in Chicago currently make between $8.25 an hour (the current minimum wage in Illinois) and about $9.25 an hour (if they are “lucky.”)
Because the “lucky” fast food workers who are actually able to work full-time (which is not the usual case) are only making $17,760 (when they are paid $9.25 an hour for 40 hours a week) before taxes, which is below the poverty line for a family of three and which can barely pay for a two bedroom apartment and utilities in the city.
Because 70% of the fast-food workers in the U.S. are over 18 years old, 40% have children, and 1/3 of them have had some college education.
Because fast-food industries like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King are some of the fastest growing industries earning around $200-$250 billion a year in profits, and yet more than half of their workers are on government assistance programs and some are even homeless.
Because you think CEO’s of big banks make too much compared to their lowest paid workers (about 275 times)? Well, CEO’s of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King make 1000 times the amount their lowest paid workers make!
Because since 2000, CEO compensation has quadrupled to $24 million, while the lowest paid worker’s wages have only increased 0.3%.
Because Jesus organized others to fight against unjust systems that kept the poor poor and the rich rich, and he commands all of his followers to do so, as well.
It has been painful and quite shocking to read comments and articles this past month by people who are against this wage increase – especially comments by those who are Christian and claim: that fast food workers “don’t deserve” to have a wage increase… That these workers are “not hard workers” like workers in other lines of work. That these workers should stop having a sense of “entitlement” and just “get another job” if they wish to make more money.
However, in an economic crisis like we are in today, most individuals who are working at fast-food industries cannot find other jobs to support themselves. And in the majority of cases, fast-food industries are not even offering jobs that are full-time at one store location.
Such comments demean so many people I know and care for; they demean so many of God’s beloved children; and they demean so many of my neighbors, your neighbors, and their neighbors that Jesus commands us to love as we love God and ourselves (even if we do not know their names or their stories).
Such comments dehumanize our neighbors, suggesting that they are the “others;” that they are “less than” those who have been privileged to have had access to great education and opportunities to getting well-paid jobs. These kinds of comments claim that these “others” are not actually made in the image of God.
But if we do believe in God the Creator, we must accept that God made ALL in God’s image – both male and female, young and old, white and black, educated and non-educated, privileged and non-privileged, CEO and fast-food server. And God created ALL to live fully and holistically: which means that NO ONE – NOT ONE SINGLE CHILD OF GOD – should be robbed of her humanity by not having her basic needs met.
“Woe to you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!” – Isaiah 10:1-3
So don’t tell me you uphold “family values” when you do not support a wage increase for workers at the fastest growing and most profitable companies who have families they cannot currently feed and house.
Don’t tell me you are “pro-life” if you do not support a living wage.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” – Isaiah 58:6-7
A few weeks ago, I was walking to the train with my clergy collar on after a Walk-a-thon, and a man in his late 20s stopped me and asked if I was a pastor. When I said I was, he went on for about 45 minutes, spilling his story. He told me that several years ago he moved from Belize to Chicago, but never had access to a good high school education and never had enough money to go to college. In between his apologies for cussing in front of me (which I dismissed, saying I cuss when I’m pissed off about injustice, too), he explained that he tried to work a minimum paid job, but the pay just couldn’t make ends meet. He said he doesn’t want to continue to steal from people, sell drugs, and drive around with a gun to protect himself from others in the drug business, but that is his only option if he wants to be able to pay for food and housing for his three daughters. He told me that he believes in God, but he often doubts God actually cares for him when he sees so many people who have so much but God doesn’t even answer his prayers on finding a job that would be able to support his family and give him a break in life.
All I could do was listen to him and tell him that he is loved.
All I could do after we said goodbye was get on the train and feel completely pissed at this unjust system that has kept Marlan from living the safe and holistic life he wants with his family because selling drugs is his only livable option.
This month, the Spirit of the Poor syncroblog topic is food justice. Some bloggers are talking about food scarcity in places like “food deserts” – something that is a horrifying reality in many parts of my own city of Chicago. Other bloggers are discussing ways to create more accessible and affordable foods in such locations, through community gardens or advocating for farmer’s markets to accept SNAP benefits.
As others in this synchroblog have touched on, food justice is when all people – no matter where they live or what they look like – have access to healthy and affordable foods.
But food justice also means that those in our country and around the world – who are working hard to prepare and serve our food – are getting paid a living wage so that they – too – can access healthy foods to feed themselves and their families.
$8.25 an hour is not enough to support a family. And an increase to the suggested minimum wage of $10 an hour is not enough to support a family, either.
So this is why I #fightfor15. This is why I get up at 4:30AM and march around a McDonald’s in downtown Chicago in the freezing rain.
Because Jesus boldly and loudly proclaimed good news to the poor and release to the captives, brought recovery of sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, and proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor. And since his work is not done, he sends us into all the world to do the same.
So, let’s join together in boldly shouting out to CEO’s who make 1000 times the amount of their average workers: “Hold the burgers! Hold the fries! The WAGES should be super sized!”
* While some argue that this wage increase is not feasible, the fast food industries already have models in some other countries that are paying their workers living wages. For instance, in Denmark, McDonald’s workers under the age of 18 are making $15 an hour, while workers over 18 are making $21 an hour.
To see more reasons why the increase will actually help our society and our economy, check out “10 Reasons Why Fast-Food Workers Deserve A Raise.”
Check out Wes’ story about why he personally hopes the minimum wage is raised: