10 years ago they worked in fast food and earned about $8 an hour.  'Fight for 15' changed their lives.

10 years ago they worked in fast food and earned about $8 an hour. ‘Fight for 15’ changed their lives.

Reynoso, 36, worked as a delivery driver for Domino’s in 2012. He earned $7.25, the minimum wage at the time. But on November 29, 2012, he became something else: a worker on strike.

Months before, Reynoso and his colleagues had been approached by organizers of the nascent Fight for 15 movement.

“I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. I just knew my job was terrible. We were very poorly paid and we needed a change,” he told Insider. This led to him joining the now historic November 29 strike, alongside around 200 other fast food workers.

“Ten years ago it was definitely impossible for some people. It was like, oh no, raising the minimum wage, especially for fast workers, are you crazy? Get out of here,” Reynoso said. .

Walking through Manhattan to McDonald’s on 42nd Street was “incredible,” Reynoso said.

“We sing, we ask for more money. We are humans. We are men and women who just want better working conditions and better pay,” Reynoso said.

Today, Reynoso is a full-time organizer for the New York State Nurses Association, working on political and community organizing. In New York, where Reynoso first took to the streets, the minimum wage is $15 an hour.

Since the launch of Fight for 15 ten years ago, the federal minimum wage has not budged. But states have taken matters into their own hands, with ballot initiatives propelled by labor groups. Thirty states have a minimum wage higher than the federal wage of $7.25, and those higher minimums have resulted in an estimated $87.6 billion in incremental economic output since 2012 — and supports 452,000 jobs annually.

Bart Perez worked as a cook at McDonald’s for 31 years in California. During the Great Recession, he noticed management reducing their shifts. That’s why he’s been organizing with Fight for 15 since 2011.

“I couldn’t meet my necessities because I didn’t have enough working days and hours,” he told Insider through a translator. At the time, the workers’ demands included the recovery of some of their hours and a wage increase to $15 an hour instead of $8.

The organizing process wasn’t always easy for Perez, but he didn’t want to “spoil” his longevity with the company. More importantly, he didn’t want anyone else to go into a similar job – including his kids one day – and face the same issues.

“It was an opportunity for me to make a difference,” he said. In California, where Perez works, the minimum wage is now $15 an hour for employers with 26 or more employees. Workers there have also been pushing for legislation passed in September that will give fast-food workers a say in their pay, working conditions and hours.

But workers say the battle – while obviously centered on wages – is also about respect. It’s something that was thrown into sharp relief when minimum wage jobs suddenly became “essential” during the pandemic. Part of the job overhaul has been a concerted push to ensure blue-collar jobs receive traditional white-collar benefits — and are treated with the same respect.

“The movement has given so many people the opportunity to fight for something that is right. To fight for dignity,” Perez said. “That’s been one of the most important things – the respect that every person and every worker deserves.”

Terrence Wise, a Taco Bell employee and a Missouri Workers Center leader, has worked with Fight for 15 for 10 years. He brought his then seven-year-old daughter to his first strike in 2013, where he kept hiding behind his sign, which he described as “hidden”. This prompted his daughter to ask, “Daddy, are you scared?”

“At that point, I looked at my daughter and thought, am I more afraid of being homeless and not being able to take care of my daughter or my employer?” he said. “And in that moment it clicked for me – I’m going to fight for my child, I’m going to do whatever it takes for my child.”

The next day, after years of asking, he finally got a raise. When he started unionizing, he says, he was making $7.47 an hour. Today, he earns $16.

Despite all the successes of the Fight for 15 movement over the past decade, there is still a long way to go. Nearly a third of American workers still earn less than $15 an hour, and Southern workers of color face especially low wages.

“Victory looks different in different parts of the country and the organizing efforts will look different as well,” Wise said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, and a lot hasn’t changed yet, but we’re hopeful because of what we’ve been able to accomplish as well.”

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