Raising the wages for fast-food workers is a racial imperative as well as an economic imperative. Twenty-two percent of African American and Latino men work in low-wage jobs compared to 14 percent of white men. Among employed women, 28 percent of blacks and a third of Latinas are in low-wage service jobs, compared with 20 percent of white women.
The nation’s fundamental promise of being able to attain a middle-class lifestyle if you work hard has been broken for too many.
We need look no further than our history for greater understanding of why low-wage working people are walking off the job and, more importantly, why we need their movement to succeed. In 1963, organized labor backed the historic March on Washington and the broader civil rights movement because we believed “the fight for decent wages and working conditions will fail,” without widespread economic empowerment. Now we’re going backward. There is hope for change, however, if we shift our thinking and enact policies that reward hard work not just wealthy shareholders and corporate bosses.
Valarie Long serves as an executive vice president of the 2.1 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU).