By Eshawney Gaston
I’m one of America’s millions of essential workers. We’re working in your children’s schools, at your grocery stores, and at drive-through windows. We’re cleaning your homes.
And we’re struggling so hard to make ends meet.
Congress is debating whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Experts say this would raise wages for 32 million workers like me.
Supporters had hoped to pass the increase as part of the Covid-19 relief package, but an obscure parliamentary rule says they can’t. Now supporters in Congress will have to decide how hard they’ll fight for us.
I want to share a bit about what it’s like to work for less than a living wage — especially during this pandemic.
In my last job, I sold vacuums door to door. My coworkers and I had to go into strangers’ houses to demonstrate the equipment. But our company didn’t provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and it didn’t require employees or clients to socially distance or wear masks.
Eventually, I caught Covid-19. Instead of supporting me, my manager repeatedly questioned me for quarantining. I didn’t want to risk my life for a low-wage job with no benefits, so I left.
Now I work two low-wage jobs, but neither has benefits. The safety precautions are a little better, but as a home care worker, I’m caring for patients who may or may not wear masks.
It’s especially stressful because I live with my mom, who’s in several high-risk categories. My two jobs aren’t enough to afford an apartment with utilities, furniture, and other expenses, so we’re living in a hotel.
The pandemic made this harder, but the truth is that it’s always been hard — I’m 23 and I’ve already had too many jobs to count. I keep changing jobs to escape poverty wages, harassment, discrimination, exploitation, danger, and a lack of health care. Wherever I go, it doesn’t seem to get better.
This isn’t right. And that’s why I’ve learned to fight back.
When I was working at McDonald’s for $7.25 an hour a few years ago, a co-worker told me she was going to a rally for the Fight for $15 campaign. I asked to go along. It was an amazing experience. We were all there for each other, working for structural change so that we don’t have to live this way. So no one does.
I started dedicating my life to achieving a living wage, union rights, and health care for all. And right now, we’re so close to $15.
Some lawmakers don’t think essential workers like me need a livable wage. I want to tell them they’re wrong. We’re the ones taking care of your ailing parents, teaching your kids, and putting food on your table.
My mom and I deserve a place to call our own. My fellow low-wage workers deserve to be able to buy good food, get quality healthcare, and securely house their families in exchange for their hard and often dangerous work.
Even before the pandemic, 140 million Americans were poor or low-income. Now the economy is down 10 million jobs since the pandemic hit, and at least 8 million more of us are living in poverty.
I don’t want to have to struggle so hard to survive. I don’t want that for anyone. We’ll need more than a living wage to make ends meet for all of us — we’ll need stronger unions and better health care, too — but fair pay for hard work would be a great place to start.
The minimum wage must be raised to $15 an hour. Join the Fight for $15 where you live, and call on your representatives to make it happen. Together we can make this a reality.
Eshawney Gaston is an essential worker and a leader with NC Raise Up, the North Carolina branch of Fight for $15 and a Union. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.
Deborah Coffey says
Yes, you do deserve $15/hour! And, I’m pretty sure you’ll get it soon.
Deserve? Then real essential workers deserve $100 an hour.
I believe that experienced essential workers deserve $15 dollars per hour. I don’t believe that a teenager with no employment history or experience needs $15/hour.
Min Wage is a racist policy that was design to make employers not hire undesirables who aren’t worth the full cost (minorities, young, old, etc.). Lets improve employment for the young, the minorities, and other groups: Get rid of all minimum wage laws!
The key to a good paying job is preparation and education. Instead of spending years fighting and complaining you don’t make enough money get the education or job skills required to be successful. My wife, sisters and now my daughter are all RN’s and they have many job choices that pay fairly well. You can be a LPN initially and make more than 15 dollars an hour. I have another friend who has a plumbing business and makes 150 dollars an hour. A local welder started his own company and is very well off. Guide and encourage your children to aim for financial independence and realize success is a process that takes some time and preparation. You can’t expect to be financially successful without preparation and a plan and a willingness to put in the required effort. I realize sometimes life throws unexpected events at us and sometimes that is difficult to overcome, but in this country there should not be 140 million people living at low income levels or poverty unless of course that is the goal of a certain political party.
Went to Target yesterday and a sign at the front door stated “All positions start at $15.00 per hour” Exit right McDonalds, Toco Bell, Wal Mart.
And while you shop there you realize, the shelves are half bare, the place is a mess, theres nobody around working you can ask a question nothing is priced, the Garden section is closed and there is not much variety in the supermarket section, indicating the store is failing. 3 times the customers at walmart/publix etc. I don’t think they going to make it wouldn’t surprise me if they follow Sears and K-Mart into oblivion.
Observent is misinformed. Target reported its latest-quarter earnings on March 2: “Target earnings top estimates as sales rise 21%, boosted by a surge of post-holiday shoppers.” Target’s stock value has doubled in the last three years. Please don’t use this site to spread disinformation.
The 2020 election ballot initiative garnered the 60% support needed to pass, according to The Associated Press. Florida becomes the eighth state to approve a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and the second-most populous to do so.
The measure would increase the state’s current $8.56-an-hour pay floor to $10 next year. For every year after that, the minimum wage would rise by $1 an hour until it hits $15 in 2026.