Raise Up fights for minimum wage increase of $15

The+Appalachian+Online

The Appalachian Online

Chamian Cruz

Low-waged workers throughout the nation, 200 students throughout North Carolina and about 15 students from Appalachian State University stood together at Shaw University on Wednesday to support a national day of action for higher wages and union rights.

The movement is led by Raise Up and by people directly affected by low-waged jobs. It started in 2012 with 200 workers in New York City. By 2014, actions took place in 33 countries and six continents. The movement has become one of the largest mobilizations.

“Two and a half years is really fast for a mobilization like this, which just goes to show how important it is and how quick people are to sign up for it,” said Rachel Clay, senior women’s studies major. “This is the essence for people power. People are affected by this in such masses that they’re willing to show up.”

Clay said she is the Boone team leader for Ignite North Carolina Nonprofit in Durham, which partnered with Raise Up. To help mobilize action on campus, Ignite North Carolina also partnered with on-campus organizations like the Appalachian Social Justice Educators, which she is also the vice president of.

“ASJE is involved in supporting and educating on the movement,” said Julia Granger, junior women’s studies major and manager of public relations and social media for ASJE. “Economic justice is social justice – it’s justice for women, for people of color, for undocumented citizens, for LGBTQIA people – it’s justice for everyone.”

The minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $15 would serve as a framework for a more just economic situation. The concentration of the movement is on low-waged workers in the fast food industry, especially in the south.

Clay said 43 percent of low-waged workers have college degrees and 70 percent of minimum waged workers in the south are women.

“Considering the economic crisis right now, a lot of students are going to be graduating and not immediately going into jobs that pay $40,000 a year,” Clay said. “Having a certain level of education is not going to ensure that you have economic stability when you graduate, so students really should care.”

Grainger said the fight for a higher minimum wage intersects with the fight for tuition equity for all students in that economic justice in all forms is vital for a sustainable future and there should be support for fast food workers, adjuncts and all who are willing to teach, serve and learn with us.

A large part of the movement with Raise Up is also with Faculty Forward, which concentrates on advocating for living wages for faculty, adjuncts and other non-tenure track professionals.

“Nearly three quarters of teaching is now done by [non-tenure track professionals],” said Michael Behrent, associate professor of history and supporter of Faculty Forward. “This undermines academic freedom, creates a disincentive for people to become professors and risks undermining the quality of teaching and the global reputation U.S. universities have acquired.”

In addition, a major aspect that Raise Up is fighting for is the right to unionize. Despite the fact that unions play an important role in increasing the standards of living of people, there are neither laws that allow for unions to be created nor laws that force companies to follow their policies.

Behrent said North Carolina is a right-to-work state, so unions are very difficult to create and are banned among public employees, which includes anyone who is employed by Appalachian. Republican governors have recently expanded the number of right-to-work states to about 25.

Clay said companies like Hardee’s and Bojangles offer good programs like scholarships for students and an automatic wage increase per year, but fail to follow through or workers are uninformed about these policies. This causes employees to work for 15 years or more and still make $9 per hour.

“A lot of people think minimum wage is for teenagers trying to make extra money, but this is the job of most people and a lot of them don’t even hate their job,” Clay said. “I spoke to a lot of low-waged workers who just want to be treated with dignity and respect and they’re feeding other people and they want to be able to feed themselves and their families as well.”

Clay said the problem could be solved by making a wage cut among CEOs in order to pay employees more without having to raise prices. She said the CEO of Starbucks makes $9,600 an hour and CEOs of McDonald’s start off at about $5,600 an hour.

Clay said there is no incentive among CEOs or other people in high positions, because they’re effectively receiving aid from taxpayers to continue their practices.

“It’s a weird analogy, but when you think of welfare the largest people using welfare are these companies, because they’re able to pay their employees such low wages because their employees receive enough public assistance to barely survive,” Clay said. “Our tax money that goes toward government assistance is being used to allow corporations to not pay their employees enough.”

In the end, Raise Up is aimed at gaining support and shifting public opinion to see that change and economic justice is needed. Local, state, national legislators and even Chancellor Sheri Everts have the ability to make the change.

“There’s no good reason to have policy that halts unionizing or tuition equity and if there is a policy, it’s based out of greed and privilege,” Grainger said. “I’ve never been burned from [a] fryer or had to work at three jobs to make ends meet. So I need to use my privilege to stand in solidarity, otherwise I’d be just be perpetuating social injustices.”

Story: Chamian Cruz, Intern News Reporter