Five years ago, I separated from my husband and the father of my children after years in a tumultuous relationship. I accepted a promotion which required me to relocate to NC shortly after we split. Although the job paid a good salary, it was difficult for me to make ends meet as a single mom with 2 children under 5 years old. Our split was contentious and it would take months for child support arrangements to be put in place — and even longer for me to receive payments. I made too much money for assistance of any kind. I relied on friends and family to help me. Some, I was able to pay back; others, I never did and I thank God that they still love me anyway. I struggled for over a year, while working to finish my Master’s degree … and for some time after that, “tight” wasn’t a strong enough word to describe my budget.
I never once blamed my employer or demanded a raise. When review time came, I pushed hard for the maximum increase and I had all the documentation to back it up. But I didn’t expect anything from them. And I wasn’t mad at my owners for making a profit while I experienced personal struggle.
So as media coverage and protest participation surrounding the Fast Food Workers gained momentum this summer, I felt … some kind of way about it.
On the one hand, I felt I could relate to their struggle after my own experiences. I couldn’t imagine having to support my family on minimum wage for an extended period. I couldn’t imagine working someplace who never awarded pay increases.
On the other hand, demanding a pay increase just based on personal need isn’t acceptable to me, either personally or professionally. My bills are not my company’s business or concern. If the demands of my life require me to earn more, it is my responsibility to figure out how to make that happen. It will not be easy or fun. I felt all kinds of guilt, embarrassment, shame and depression during my struggle. But I decided I wouldn’t let myself stay in that place and I did what I had to do to make it through and make it better. I believe the same power lies in each of us — especially when we align ourselves with uplifting things and people.
If I had a 3rd hand, I would use it to challenge the assumption that these fast food restaurants are swimming in money. It’s not true. Most of these restaurants are independently owned franchises and they are NOT making record profits, yo! And I know because I’ve spent almost 9 years working for retail franchisees. The money for these franchisees to pay $15/hour as minimum wage just isn’t there — unless we all want to pay $20+ for our “value meals.”
Yet I’m not OK with leaving people to struggle. The disparity of wealth in America and all the problems resulting from it are real. Especially for women and people of color. People I know. People I love. People who look like me.
I’m proud that, while my organization saw a few protests and protestors, none of our employees walked out, called out or joined the fray. I think it speaks to our commitment to providing fair wages, good benefits and a path for promotion to our long-term employees. I think it speaks to good HR philosophy, strategy and execution.
That makes the struggle worth it … even though it’s probably not over. For the workers, the owners, the industry or for me.