‘When we fight, we win!’
By TIM ROWDEN
Missouri State Representative Bruce Franks Jr. (D-St. Louis) knows what it means to live on minimum wage.
“My mother, Earline Banks, one of the most amazing people to ever walk the face of this planet, raised us on a minimum wage paycheck,” Franks said. “She worked at White Castle on Vandeventer and Choteau. My mom worked 60 and 70 hours sometimes a week. For a year-and-a-half we had to go homeless. But my mom fought through it, with that minimum wage, with that non-livable wage job, and she made it happen. And it was hard.
“So, if you think about today, if you think about our single parents and our folks who have so many different challenges and barriers that work 50 or 60 hours, that work two or three just jobs to make ends meet, they don’t get to live paycheck to paycheck,” Franks said. “They live paycheck to Monday or paycheck to Friday, and they spend another seven or eight days trying to figure out what decisions they’re going to make, what bills they’re not going to pay and what food they’re not going to buy or, if they have to get their kids Pampers or formula or whatever it is.”
An activist who became nationally known during the Ferguson protests, Franks knows what it is to fight for a living wage, to protest for fair wages with Fight for $15 and Jobs with Justice volunteers… and to see that fair wage ripped away.
Last year, in his first year in the Missouri House, having fought for and won a minimum wage increase in the City of St. Louis, Franks was there on the last day of the legislative session when the Republican majority in the state House of Representatives called “the previous question” –– a process known as PQ-ing –– which ended floor debate, and passed a repeal of the city ordinance that had raised the minimum hourly wage in the city to $10 and hour and rolled back a similar increase in Kansas City.
Franks and other representatives were waiting to speak when Republicans PQ-ed the bill, blocking any opportunity for any other voice to be heard.
“I lost it,” Franks said. “Being politically correct or anything else went out the window. Because the moment they PQ-ed what I remembered was all those times we were in the street, all those times I saw Fight for $15 and Jobs with Justice out in the streets fighting the fight for our minimum wage; marching down Hampton Ave. and standing on McDonald’s lots making sure that folks were going to know that we were going to fight to have a livable wage. That’s what clicked in my head. That’s the vision that I saw.
“The vision that I saw is that day that we were on Hampton in front of the McDonald’s and the police line came down and they had their bikes and they had their gear on, and we had folks simply fighting for the right to have a livable wage. That’s the picture that flashed in my head when the floor leader called people to the previous question.”
“I was yelling,” Franks said. “I was upset.”
Republicans regained control by offering to allow debate on an emergency clause in the legislation, which would have caused it to take place immediately.
Franks and his fellow representatives were able to defeat the emergency clause, allowing minimum wage workers to receive the higher wage for at least a few weeks before state legislators ripped it away.
Missouri voters will have a chance to raise the state’s minimum wage on Nov. 6 when they vote on Prop B, which would raise the wage by 85-cents a year until it reaches $12-an-hour in 2023. (See related story on this page, at right.)
Franks knows the importance of linking the intersecting struggles of work, race and gender – all of which are linked by wages.
Franks spoke to those interwoven fights at the recent annual meeting of the Jobs with Justice Workers’ Rights Board at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Hall in St. Louis.
“Martin Luther King said ‘There comes a time when you do things not because it’s popular, not because it’s political, not because it’s safe, but because your conscience tells you it’s right,’” Franks said. “That’s what standing up for intersectionality really means.
The way that we win is by combining our fights,” Franks said. “We’re not going to win standing on separate on separate silos saying ‘This is my fight or this is my fight or that’s my fight’ and not understanding the challenges or barriers that apply to other folks.”
A perfect example, Franks said, is the work that went into getting “right-to-work” (Prop A) on the ballot and the campaign that led to its defeat by a two-to-one margin on Aug. 7
“When I think about those 300,000 signatures that were gathered for us actually get RTW on the ballot so we could defeat it, that didn’t come just from Labor organizations,” Franks said. “That didn’t come from workers’ rights organizations; that didn’t just come from civil rights organizations; it was a combined effort. It took all of us to defeat RTW. It took all of us to show what a veto-proof majority really looks like…. The people are our veto-proof majority.”
“I serve in the House representing the great, most amazing 78th District,” Franks said. “People tell me, ‘You’ve got the best district because you represent Busch Stadium and the Arch and Crown Candy and Anheuser-Busch.’ I say, that’s cool, but I’ve got the best district because I represent the Cochran (the area around the former Cochran Gardens public housing complex) and Clinton-Peabody (housing complex) and Carr Square (neighborhood). These are the people that I fight for.
“When we fight, we win. We can’t give up the fight. That’s why I’m so proud of those who organized to put Prop B (the initiative to increase the minimum wage) on the ballot. That’s why I’m so proud of those who fought to put ‘right-to-work’ on the ballot. Because one thing we hear from the other side is that elections have consequences.
“In this last election, when they put in on the August ballot instead of the November ballot because they thought that they’d be able to defeat it that way, we showed them that elections have consequences.”
‘IT’S OUR DUTY… WE WON’T BE DIVIDED’
“We have to understand that people in our community go through different challenges and barriers no matter what they look like,” Franks said. “It’s our job to connect the fights. It’s our job for the unions, after we defeated RTW, now we need those same 300,000 folks that came out, that signed, that knocked doors, that sent postcards, that made phone calls – to do the same thing for minimum wage.
“All of us have different backgrounds,” Franks said. “All of us have different challenges and barriers. We all come from different places. But it’s our duty to learn what each other’s challenges and barriers are, to understand the plight of what we’ve had to go through, no matter who you are. And when it’s time to fight, it’s our duty to stand with each other and fight. It’s our duty to come together and make sure that folks understand that we won’t be divided.”
Prop B: Raise the minimum wage
Missouri’s current minimum wage is $7.85 an hour.
For someone who is lucky enough to work 40 hours a week, that amounts to $314 a week, or $16,000 a year.
Prop B, the minimum wage initiative, would:
• Raise the state minimum wage to $12 by 2023 by implementing 85-cent increases each year beginning in 2019. The gradual increases would allow businesses to prepare for the change.
• Help wages keep pace with rising costs by keeping the current law, which has a cost-of-living adjustment that goes up at the rate of inflation every year.
• Boost small businesses by creating new customers who have additional money in their pockets.
• Help families take care of their children. More than 170,000 people who would be directly impacted by this have children in their homes.
Missouri Jobs with Justice Policy Director Richard Von Glahn said increasing the minimum wage would be a win for small businesses, because putting more money in people’s pockets means more money going to local businesses.
Twenty-nine other states and cities have raised the minimum wage in recent years, Von Glahn said, and in every one, unemployment has gone down and incomes have gone up
“Prop B has already been endorsed by 375 Missouri businesses who have said this is the right thing to do,” Von Glahn said. “It’s the right thing for families and the local economy.”
For more information on Prop B, visit raiseupmo.org.