Why I’m voting for the first time in 2016
I’m 36 years old. I was born in America. And I’ve never voted.
Not in an election for city council. Or state legislature. Or even president of the United States.
As a fast-food worker, I felt that no one listened to me — either on the job or in the halls of power. The deck always seemed stacked against workers like me and in favor of big companies like my employers, McDonald’s and Burger King. After 18 years in the fast-food industry, I am still paid just $8 an hour and have to rely on public assistance to support my family.
I always thought, ‘Why vote when those in charge don’t even acknowledge the issues that affect me day to day?’
The “Fight for $15” campaign, however, has shown me that when workers speak up, some politicians listen. In just three years, we have won hard-to-believe victories from coast to coast.
New York fast-food workers won $15 an hour; Los Angeles, SeaTac, San Francisco and Seattle approved a $15 minimum wage for all workers. Home-care workers in Massachusetts and Oregon won $15 an hour. In Florida, elected leaders have even taken the “minimum-wage challenge” in which they committed themselves to living, for a few days, the life of an underpaid worker.
I have become active in this fight. So much so that I was asked to go to Washington to introduce President Barack Obama at a White House summit on the importance of workers joining together and speaking out on the job.
In my hometown of Kansas City, we fast-food workers won a pay increase to $13 an hour, from $7.65. Only to watch state legislators in Jefferson City, under pressure from the fast-food industry, repeal the measure and then overturn the governor’s veto. I felt they were taking food out of my daughters’ mouths.
These victories and near victories prove to fast-food workers like me that we do have power and influence. Across the country, there are nearly 64 million of us paid less than $15 an hour. Imagine if we all went to the polls to cast our votes. We could sway elections and put people in power who stand with us. Maybe those politicians in Jefferson City wouldn’t have been so quick to overturn my raise.
I grew up in South Carolina in a government housing project. Things were hard. My mother worked at Hardee’s, a fast-food restaurant. Still, some days I’d come home from school and the lights were cut off, or the fridge was empty.
I swore that as soon as I could work I would get a job and help provide for my family. And I did – at 16 years old. I started working at Taco Bell, and I’ve been in the fast-food industry ever since.
I assumed I’d leave and go back to school, but it never worked out that way. Today, I work at both McDonald’s and Burger King for a combined 65 to 70 hours a week, but I still have to turn to food stamps and rent assistance to help support my three beautiful young daughters.
On Nov. 10, when I joined the biggest fast-food strike to hit the nation, I was thinking of my daughters. Fast-food workers like me were joined by home-care, child-care and other workers in protests at hundreds of city halls — symbols of local political power — across the country.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after the strike and City Hall protests, workers marched on the Republican debate. The moderator’s very first question was for Donald Trump, asking him to respond to our Fight for $15 campaign. Every candidate asked about it came out against it. But we let them know that they have a year’s notice to come and get our vote by standing for $15 an hour and union rights.
We will continue striking and protesting and marching because we can’t wait any longer for fair pay and union rights. Next year, we’ll be voting — many, like me, for the first time.
Politicians, if you want our votes, come and get them.