Friday, May 22, 2015

The Trenches

As I have said it often takes the British press to write about American issues in a way that enables us to hear the story with a better accent and in turn a fresh perspective.

This is a story from one in the trenches and it demomstrates the way migration works - haphazardly and usually regards to work and wages. And that is a clear personal narrative from an individual who is directly affected it often lends to a better counter argument to the standard - prices will rise, the sky will fall ones.

It is obvious that the author did no research other than the belief that wages were $15/hour and that as his wife was coming to school here it was all good. Then the reality quickly set in. Ahh youth.

And our streets are not paved in Emeralds or Gold but in homeless and drug addled mentally ill who have also been told that we are the Nirvana of drugs and music and all that grunge. We never were and even if we ever were that like the band has folded its tent and moved on.

Seattle's minimum wage raise gave me the breathing room I needed
Freeman Ryan
The Guardian UK
May 21 2015

My increase translated to about $120 more a month. Now I have more financial stability, more time with my partner and time to be active in my community

Just before I moved from Minneapolis to Seattle with my wife in August 2014, I read a headline that said: “Seattle passes $15 minimum wage”. I was intrigued. $15 an hour was far more than the $10 I had been making dishwashing at a seafood restaurant in Minneapolis.

I moved to Seattle for my wife to attend college and managed to get a job at Whole Foods Market washing dishes again. I was paid $10 an hour – the same I had been earning in my other job – but Seattle was a lot more expensive than what I was used to; especially the rent, the food and gas. This move was my first real foray into responsible adult life and I worried how I would manage.

I worked in the back of the kitchen in the dish pit alongside people who were generally much older than me. My dozen or so dishwashing coworkers included two people with master’s degrees and another three or four with bachelor’s degrees. The whole kitchen was full of people who couldn’t find a job in their field and just needed a way to stay afloat.

As I spoke to my coworkers, many of whom had been working there for several years, I learned that they still were only making $13­-14 dollars an hour. I felt anxious. Was my move to Seattle financially viable? Even including the stipend my wife and I were getting from our parents, I was worried I didn’t have enough experience to find a job that could keep me afloat, especially considering my coworker’s stories.

On January 1st, Whole Foods decided to raise our wages four months earlier than the April 1st implementation date, to $11 an hour. That was the first step to $15, which has a phase-in period and would reach $15 in 2017 for large companies.

My increase translated to about $120 more a month. Before this, I didn’t have a smartphone, and I was able to put that extra income towards purchasing a phone through my family’s plan. That purchase was actually key to obtaining a new job as a delivery driver at a local sushi restaurant in March 2015, where I earn more from tips, because I was able to use that phone as a GPS to navigate around Seattle.

Aside from that major purchase, the wage increase has given my wife and I some breathing room, and allows us to take a day every once in a while to get take-out from a restaurant, as well as being a little healthier in our choices at the grocery store.

Tips in my new delivery job have also really helped me increase my average take-home pay, but they still fluctuate so much from day to day. However, since Washington state doesn’t have a tip credit – a euphemism for the low $2.13/hour minimum wage that federal law allows employers to pay tipped workers – workers in tipped industries here make the same minimum wage as other low wage workers, and tips are in addition to those wages. Because the restaurant industry was unable to re­introduce a tip credit into the $15 ordinance, tipped jobs are also rising to $15 an hour.

Before I got my job as a delivery driver, I spent a lot of my extra time walking dogs, because that was one way I could get some extra cash. I generally spent two or three hours in the mornings before I went to Whole Foods, including some weekends, depending on my bills. All this extra working left me with little time to adjust to living with my wife, as I had never before shared an apartment full time with her.

But with my new job, I’ve actually been able to attend a few meetings at my local college with members of 15 Now, one of the groups which has been behind the effort to raise minimum wage. There, I learned about how $15 was won, and how the movement was spearheaded in Seattle by our socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant. I’m proud to see that my hometown of Minneapolis is fighting for $15 and how many other cities have passed similar legislature, which now includes Los Angeles.

The success of the 15 Now Movement has inspired me, and the extra freedom from my higher wages has allowed me to get active in my community. I’ve been volunteering with Sawant’s re­election campaign to join the struggle for the needs of working­ class people in Seattle.

When I met all the highly educated workers at Whole Foods who were washing dishes alongside me, the reality of our economy for the working class really sunk in. Even though I am in a better position now as a delivery driver, I still see my coworkers struggling to make ends meet.

As $15 comes to Seattle, I hope to keep fighting for laws that help myself and my coworkers. In just two years, I will be receiving $15, but for the time being, the breathing room that my $1 raise has given me so far has given me more financial stability, more time with my partner and more time to stay active in my community.

No comments:

Post a Comment