Fight for $15 kicks off with panel, poetry

A panel on the “Fight for $15” movement, focused on raising the minimum wage to $15, highlighted the impact the minimum wage had on students and the local community.

The Fight for $15 movement began in November 2012 in New York City. By 2013, thousands of fast food workers were striking in over 150 cities. Currently, the Fight for $15 movement has expanded to over 190 cities in 33 countries and six continents.

Seating in Tisch Commons was filled on April 7 as over 100 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered to hear panelists discuss raising the minimum wage to a “living wage.”

Senior Keaton Wetzel, one of the panel’s organizers, introduced the event by stressing student organizers’ goals for the movement on campus.

“We are very interested in bringing the Fight for $15 to our campus because it’s an important discussion that needs to happen at this university about what it means to have a living wage and the importance of a union,” Wetzel said.

The evening began with slam poetry performances from three WU-SLam members, sophomore Katy Przybylski, senior Maxine Wright and performance crew member and alumnus Mikkel Snyder of the class of 2013. The trio shared their personal stories and relationships with minimum wage work, injustice and discrimination with the audience before receiving a standing ovation.

The poets were followed by Mary Kay Henry, a leader in the Fight for $15 movement and serves as International President of the Service Employees International Union, which represents two million workers in healthcare, public and property service. In an interview with Student Life, Henry revealed her expectations of bringing the Fight for $15 to campus.

“We hope that what will be crystal clear to everybody in the nation is that the Fight for $15 is not just about fast food workers; it’s about all of us,” Henry said. “It’s about anybody who earns less than $15, but it’s also about people that earn a decent living needing to maintain that standard of living and to have a decent life for the next generation.”

Henry described Washington University’s role in the Fight for $15 movement as to provide an example for other employers.

“There’s ways for Washington University to sort of set a standard of behavior that we should be able to expect from all employers in St. Louis,” Henry said. “I’m asking Wash. U. to behave in ways that Monsanto probably doesn’t behave or so-and-so doesn’t behave,”

The panelists included a fast-food worker, an adjunct professor, a child-care worker, a health-care worker and a member of the Washington University janitorial staff.

The first panelist to speak was Ebony Williams, a fast food worker and leader of the St. Louis chapter of the Fight for $15 organization, Show Me $15.

“[Another leader] asked me how much a combo cost, and at the time minimum wage was…$7.25 or $7.35,” Williams said. “A combo at the time after tax was like $7.80 something and he pointed out to me that I couldn’t work one hour and afford a meal at where I work at and that is absolutely ridiculous to me.”

After panelists shared their stories with the audience, junior Danielle Blocker took the stage to elaborate upon the student involvement at Washington University in the Fight for $15.

“[They’re] sending a message that some people’s lives do not matter as much as others, some people’s work is just not as important, and we as students are coming together to say, this is not right and we are going to do something to change it,” Blocker said.

LaShunda Moore, one of the panelists who works with the Missouri Home Care Union, stressed the importance of the Fight for $15 movement.

“I want to live the American Dream. That’s what I’m fighting for 15 for. They say that the American Dream, people can come from another country and come here, own a house, own a car, own a business. I want all the above,” Moore said. “I want my son to know values, I want him to know that to get what you want to achieve you have to work hard, but I don’t want him working hard for pennies—that’s not right.”

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Alex SiegmanComment