Thousands of fast food workers took to the streets last week, staging strikes in protest over their low pay. In states where the minimum wage has not been raised above the federal level, if a worker could put together a full-time, full-year schedule, she would earn just $15,080 a year.
Some people scoff at raising the minimum wage for these workers, on the basis that "they only flip burgers." By that logic, what should you get paid if you are the chief burger flipper? Not much, right? Well, the CEOs of fast food restaurants average $11,884,000 in pay annually. That's a lot of hamburgers to flip.
Here is where the math of inequality comes into play. We haven't given minimum wage workers a raise in more than five years, yet inflation has continued. So minimum wage workers' purchasing power has been falling. In 2009, $15,080 a year would place a single mother with a child above the poverty threshold. Today, she and her child would be living in poverty.
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Why, asked a reporter at a Friday press conference, did none of the African-American "leaders" recently interviewed by her news outlet not come down on Commissioner Henri Brooks for remarks made while challenging the award of a county roofing contract to a firm with no African-American roofers?
"We identify with what she is talking about," said the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba Gray, the Memphis head of Rainbow PUSH, one of three groups and several ministers who called the conference at Cane Creek Baptist Church.
"During the civil rights movement we didn't all agree with Malcolm X, but we didn't challenge Malcolm X because Malcolm X spoke truth to what we were living with every day. And what Henri Brooks was speaking to is what we live with every day," said Gray.
The attachment handed out at a Friday press conference at Cane Creek Baptist Church had this header: "Direct Quotes of Mr. Andrew Clarksenior Appearance on WHBQ.TV Tuesday night 5/13/14."
The press conference featured representatives of Rainbow PUSH, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Action Network and "concerned ministers." It was a forum to issue a twin call for balance and fairness. One target was the awarding of contracts in Shelby County.
The other target was the media, particularly the handling of the story involving Commissioner Henri Brooks, who some want to resign in the wake of remarks she made at the Shelby County Election Commission on Monday. Brooks challenged the award of a roofing contract to a firm that employs 25 roofers who are Hispanic and no African Americans. Her manner of doing so is now a matter of ongoing controversy.
Church's Chicken manager Daniel May seemed pleased with the turnout and what he viewed as the unity that existed among participants in a Memphis reflection of widespread strikes and protests at fast-food restaurants on Thursday.
"It's like this very positive vibe-to know that you're fighting for justice, and you're in that fight together. You have a special camaraderie with that person."
Memphis fast food workers walked off their jobs to campaign for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. Organizers say the move part of a "wave of strikes and protests" in 150 cities across the U.S. and 33 additional countries on six continents.
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