By Ieshia Townsend
When the Illinois House passed a $15 minimum wage into law this week, it wasn’t out of the goodness of legislators’ hearts.
The House members were responding to Illinois workers like me, who have been going on strike since April 2013 to demand $15 and a union. And when Gov. Pritzker signs it in the coming days, my life will change.
Me and my coworkers live a harsh daily truth: millions of us work hard but don’t get paid enough by giant corporations like McDonald’s to provide for our families.
I’m a crew member at a McDonald’s on the south side of Chicago. Everything I do, I do for my two sons. My older son needs clothes and supplies for his school; my newborn son needs formula and diapers – plus childcare for when I’m atwork.
Although I’ve been working in the same McDonald’s store for the past three years, I’m only paid minimum wage. The raises I’ve gotten have come as a result of increases mandated by city law. At $12 an hour, I’m not getting paid enough to meet my kids’ basic needs. So I’ve picked up additional jobs on top of McDonald’s: I shop and deliver groceries for Instacart, and I’m a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.
But even that’s not enough. I still have to rely on food stamps and Medicaid. With the hours I work, I should be able to stand on my own two feet, not rely on taxpayers to feed my children.
Before the Fight for $15 and a Union movement, I felt voiceless. All around me was the overwhelming message that I didn’t matter: as a fast-food worker, as a single mom, as a Black woman on the south side of Chicago.
But by sticking together on the job, workers like me have convinced politicians, voters and employers in Illinois and across the country that $15 an hour is the bare minimum anyone needs to survive, no matter where they’re from or what they look like.
We’ve done this by joining together and acting like a union. We’ve marched, gone on strike, and even gotten arrested to lift up our call for $15 and a union. In Chicago, we helped start this movement, and now it’s spread all over the country. Tens of millions of workers like me have won life-changing raises through the Fight for $15 and a Union.
And we’re not stopping now.
The Fight for $15 has proven that sticking together and acting like a union is the only way to challenge the type of economy that forces someone like me, who’s working three jobs, to make impossible decisions like bus pass or breakfast, backpacks or diapers.
So we’re not stopping at $15. We’re going to keep on fighting – until we win our union.
Gov. Pritzker and Illinois leaders need to do more than raise the minimum wage – they also need do everything they can to stand with workers and protect our right to join together in a union, no matter where we work and where we’re from.
With $15 an hour and a union, Illinois workers like me could have a real shot at a better life.
Ieshia Townsend is a crew member at McDonald’s in Chicago.