By SHERI GASSAWAY
Hundreds of low wage workers from the St. Louis area joined together to rally for higher wages as part of the recent Fast Food Workers Fight for $15 strikes and protests, which were held worldwide.
There were three rallies in St. Louis City on April 14 – two at McDonald’s restaurants and one at Teachers Loving Children Daycare – and there was no shortage of women in the crowds.
And that’s not surprising. Women represent about two-thirds of all minimum wage workers across the country, according to the National Women’s Law Center. In Missouri, about six in 10 minimum wage earners are women.
Bettie Douglas and Frances Holmes attended each of the three rallies. Douglas and Holmes, who both work in the fast food industry, shared how their lives have been affected by low wage jobs.
Douglas is a leader of the St. Louis Chapter of the Fight for $15 movement and is a member of the group’s national organizing committee. She has worked at the McDonald’s at 1420 Hampton Ave. for eight years and only makes $7.90 an hour. She has no benefits with the company and receives no public assistance.
Prior to working at McDonald’s, Douglas held a higher paying job as a receptionist. However, she had to leave that position to be able to care for her aging parents. When she returned to the workforce, fast food was the only job she could find.
Douglas has a 14-year-old son, who has recently undergone several major medical procedures, and now lives with her brother and her son in her parent’s former home.
“Everything’s going up except my wage,” Douglas said. “The rent, utilities, food… it’s all going up, and when you’re only making $7.90 an hour, it’s hard to make ends meet. I have to choose between eating and paying a bill, and it’s not fair. We’re in America. There’s no excuse for us to be living the way we’re living.”
Frances Holmes, an employee at the McDonald’s at 4 S. Old Orchard Ave. in Webster Groves, said she also struggles between paying bills and being able to eat. The 53-year-old grandmother has worked at the restaurant nearly two years and just started making $9 an hour.
She currently lives in a room at a boarding house because that’s all she can afford. Her dream is to be able to afford her own apartment so her grandchildren could visit and stay overnight.
“It’s hard for me to survive,” Holmes said. “Some days I eat, and other days I don’t. It’s either rent or food, and I always pay my rent because I don’t want to be out on the street.”
Joining fast food employees at the April 14 St. Louis rallies were other low wage workers, including those in the hospital, home care and child care industries – several fields with high concentrations of female workers.
Carrie Oliver, owner and director of Kiddiversity Childcare on Chippewa Street in St. Louis, attended all three rallies and discussed the need for higher government-funded childcare subsidies, which could translate into better wages for child care workers.
“Almost 99 percent of my children at the center – due to demographics – are qualified for DFS subsidies,” she said. “Those subsidies are way too low, and they have been for many years. Naturally, that affects what we can afford to pay our teachers.”
Oliver said she would like to be able to raise her staff's wages so they could pursue extra education and certificates, but she can't raise her prices or it would price families out of her service.