North Carolina workers need a raise. For 11 consecutive years, the cost of living (food, rent, education, childcare) has increased causing our minimum wage to decline in value by 24 percent. Now, a person working full-time while making $7.25 an hour lives thousands of dollars below the federal poverty threshold. A good job with fair wages is the right of all working people, and the time for change is long overdue.
More than two million people—nearly 1 in 3 workers—in North Carolina get paid poverty wages. They work without knowing how they’ll make rent or how they’ll support their children despite, in many cases, working for multi-billion-dollar corporations that can afford to pay them more. When a family of three would need to make $21.95 an hour to get by on a frugal budget without public assistance, we cannot accept the fabrication that life here is so cheap we can live on low wages; $15 is the actual minimum needed to cover the bare necessities.
A 2017 study by the Georgia Institute of Technology found that child-neglect reports fall when the minimum wage rises. In a 2020 study just published in the Journal of Epidemiology, researchers at Emory University found that minimum wage increases corresponded to drops in the suicide rate for those with a high school education or less. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t just improve lives; it saves them.
Overwhelming evidence shows increasing the minimum wage to $15 would not only drastically raise standards of living but would boost consumer demand, create more businesses, and accelerate job growth. It’s proven successful not just in major cities but in states such as Alaska, Missouri, and Rhode Island. The longer North Carolina goes without increasing the minimum wage, the further southern workers fall behind.
In short, everybody wins.
But even with mountains of evidence against them, greedy corporate executives have fought tooth-and-nail to keep wages as low as possible and consolidate as much wealth as possible for themselves while North Carolina’s working families struggle to keep a roof over their heads.
It’s these same billionaires who have done everything in their power to push back against the labor movement because they know that unions of working people have the power to hold them accountable.
That is why the demand of working people in the Fight for $15 is also a demand to be able to stand together in union and win better pay, benefits, and working conditions. When working people speak up together through the power of unions, they make progress that benefits everyone–white, black, and brown.
In 2019, we saw a year of undeniable momentum for collective action and negotiating. Public approval of unions reached a 50-year high, and strikes across the country resulted in lasting, long-term improvements to working conditions.
From CWA members at AT&T to UAW members at General Motors, half a million people walked a picket line in the past year, including thousands of workers here in North Carolina. As 2020 heats up, we will continue to take our pro-worker message across the state, holding forums like “$15 for NC: A People’s Hearing” on February 13th in Raleigh and working to elect more candidates who will champion the issues important to working families.
The conditions we live and work under are set by those in power, and working people have the power to rewrite the rules by raising the minimum wage and protecting our freedom to join together. The Fight For $15 and a Union is a fight for a better future in the state we are proud to call our home.
MaryBe McMillan is the President of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO