Female workers at the lowest rung of the economic ladder are getting a boost from a growing campaign to raise wages for fast food workers.
The Fast Food Forward campaign—also informally known as the “Fight for $15” movement—is calling for an industry wage of $15 an hour, or double the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, as well for the unionization of fast food restaurants. Largely bankrolled by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the movement has grown steadily since its launch in November 2012. Earlier this month, protests were held in some 150 cities during a national day of action on September 4.
Fight for $15 is particularly relevant to female workers, who account for two thirds of fast food employees. Not only are most of these women raising children, few can manage to work full-time because the industry cuts back work hours to avoid laws requiring the provision of benefits to full-time workers. Often, their schedules change on a weekly basis, making it even more difficult to arrange for reliable childcare. According to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly 2 million people in the United States are juggling two part-time jobs and two-thirds of them are women.
While at first blush a wage-hike to $15 may seem unrealistically ambitious, in less than two years the campaign has piled up successes on a local level. Thirteen states as well as at least 10 city and county governments have passed increased minimum wage rules over the past two years, according to NBC News. Last June, Seattle voters opted to raise the city-wide minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018—the highest minimum wage in the country. Also on the West Coast, San Diego’s City Council raised the local minimum wage to $11.50 by 2017; San Francisco will vote on a wage hike in November; and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is pushing for a $13.25 minimum wage for all workers in L.A. by 2017.
In the meantime, the Fight for $15 has shone a spotlight on women whose stories and voices are too little heard in the mainstream media. On the tragic side of the spectrum, countless news outlets captured the story of Maria Fernandes, a New Jersey woman with three part-time jobs who died from exposure to gasoline fumes last month while sleeping in her car between shifts. More hopefully, the September 15 issue of The New Yorker contained a profile of Arisleyda Tapia, a former nurse from the Dominican Republic and employee at a McDonald’s in Washington Heights, New York City. Tapia has been working at McDonald’s for eight years and makes $8.25 an hour and has been galvanized by her advocacy.