This week I joined thousands of fast-food, airport, home care, and other underpaid workers in a day of action to demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the right to join together on the job. This was my first strike.
I never thought that I would be out in the streets protesting, but I also never imagined that I would have a job working for a multi-billion dollar corporation making poverty wages. I can’t survive on what I make now and, as a single dad to three kids, making the decision to go on strike was an easy call.
A little over a year ago, I received word that the mother of my three children had died of a drug overdose. As a result, my children were placed in the care of the Department of Children and Families and ever since I’ve been fighting with all that I have to get my kids home with me. I left my lucrative job as a stockbroker making a base salary of $80,000 in Selma, North Carolina, to work for another multibillion dollar company – KFC.
While working there has its advantages, such as great customers and a flexible schedule to ensure that I am able to spend time with my kids, the company pays poverty wages and offers no benefits. I’m not eligible for benefits, so I rely on Mass Health for my medical coverage and disability.
Despite my past experience and college degree, I am paid a measly $10 an hour. I piece together my paychecks week to week to cover my basic needs all while trying to save enough money to cover legal fees so that I can gain custody of my children.
I believe that in America if you work hard you should be able to afford a roof over your head and to provide for your family. But that is not a guarantee working at KFC. The fast-food industry brings in billions of dollars in revenue each year and can afford to pay workers a decent wage that would lift so many families up out of poverty, Instead they continue to take part in the race to the bottom, holding families and communities back.
Working in fast food has been an eye opener. People are paid far too little to support their families, but I’ve come to learn it’s not just in fast food. There are 64 million people like me – whether we work in fast food, child care, home care, airports, or colleges – who are left to make some of the same daunting decisions each week. We are fathers, mothers, even grandparents. We’re the heads of our households, and in many instances, we are the sole income earners for our families.
This week’s strike was much bigger than me. The Fight for $15 has shown that when working people take action, we can win real change. We took to the streets for our biggest and loudest protest yet, and we’ll do whatever it takes to win the wages we need to survive.
I deserve more. My kids deserve more. And that’s why I went on strike.
Alonzo Foster is a Dorchester resident.