Q&A with a Fast-Food Worker on Fight for $15 

Last Thursday, Memphis joined 320 cities nationwide as fast-food workers and home-care workers went on strike once again in support of the "Fight for $15" campaign. The protesters held two rallies outside McDonald's restaurants in East Memphis and the Medical District.

The Fight for $15 campaign, in which fast-food and home-care workers across the country are demanding the federal minimum wage be raised from $7.25 to $15 an hour, has been active in Memphis since 2013. While not much progress has been made here in regards to convincing employers to raise wages, the national campaign has begun to make some waves.

New York has a plan to raise that state's minimum wage to $15 by 2019, and California will make the shift by 2022. Individual cities, including Seattle and Los Angeles, have begun to work toward a shift to $15 an hour.

Tennessee state law prohibits cities from passing wage ordinances for private business, and two recent General Assembly bills to raise wages to $15 an hour failed. But the Fight for $15 campaign plans to lobby for future statewide efforts.

One of the demonstrators in Thursday's rallies was Christopher Smith, a fast-food worker and father of three kids (ages 3, 5, and 7). Smith shared his story of working in the fast-food industry (first for Church's Chicken and now Little Caesar's Pizza) and supporting a family on $7.25 an hour. — Bianca Phillips

click to enlarge Christopher Smith - BIANCA PHILLIPS
  • Bianca Phillips
  • Christopher Smith

Flyer: When you got involved with Fight for $15, you worked for Church's Chicken. What happened?

Christopher Smith: I left Church's a year ago. When I first heard about the campaign, I really wanted to get involved because I felt like I deserved $15 an hour. After I got involved, the company started cutting my hours. I went to the [local] National Labor Relations Board, and they ended up having to pay me back-pay for the hours they'd taken away. It was about $700 when they added all the hours together.

How were you able to make ends meet when they cut your hours?

Before they started taking my hours, I was only making $7.25 an hour. I couldn't provide for my kids like I used to. I couldn't pay bills like I used to. I couldn't take care of myself. I was already not making enough, and then they cut my hours. They may have given me back pay, but they can't take away the time that I was down.

Why do you believe fast-food workers deserve $15 an hour?

People say we don't deserve $15, but I think we do because most of the time, you end up doing the manager's job that they're supposed to do. You have to do it because you need the job. I was [at Church's] for 3 1/2 years, and I only got one raise.

Now you're employed at Little Caesar's? Is it any better?

No, it's not better. Same thing. I'm making $7.25.

There's been a lot of discussion about income inequality during the presidential primaries. Do you think Fight for $15 is being heard?

It will take a bit more time for our state because our government is greedy. The [politicians] want to be at home with their picket fences and big ol' cars. They're getting their money, and they're not trying to give us nothing. But I believe we will win. New York, Seattle, and California did, but it's just taking us a little more time. As long as we stay united together and let them hear our voices, we will win.

Why are most of the campaign's events held at McDonald's when the fast-food workers come from all over the industry?

Some people think it's a McDonald's campaign, and we're just fighting for $15 for their employees. It's not. We go to McDonald's because they are one of the largest employers, and if they hear our voice and change, maybe everybody else will see it and fall in line. Right now, other companies see McDonald's not paying a living wage, so they think they don't have to either.

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