DES MOINES, IOWA — Simone Davis sometimes walks two miles to her full-time job because she can’t afford to take the $1.75 bus. She’s worked at McDonald’s in Des Moines for three years, and makes $7.25 an hour.
Alicia McDonald’s son sleeps on the floor of her small trailer home because she can’t afford a bigger home. Her two children, now 11 and 12, will probably not go to college unless they receive full scholarships. She’s worked at McDonald’s, off and on, for 12 years, and makes $8 an hour.
Maria Martinez sometimes has to bring her 6- and 7-year-old children to work with her, because she can’t afford child care. If she’s late, she says, her manager will threaten to cut her hours. She’s worked at McDonald’s for eight years, and makes $9 an hour.
All three of these women were among the crowd of low-wage workers who walked out of their jobs on Thursday morning in protest of their poor pay and lack of benefits. It was the first-ever strike by fast-food workers in Iowa, organized by the Fight for $15 campaign, which is advocating for a $15 minimum wage across the country.
And it was no mistake that the strike and protest took place just hours before the Republican presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa. The workers and their supporters told ThinkProgress they wanted the candidates to know how they live, and why they are fighting for better wages.
Workers strike at Iowa McDonald right now, striking for "15 and a union." pic.twitter.com/h3gnd5usI1
— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) January 28, 2016
For Alicia McDonald, the reason is her kids. The trailer they live in now is too small to hold them, and her, and her fiancee. While her son sleeps on the floor, she said, her daughter sleeps in a room that’s “the size of a closet; it only fits the bed.” She wants them to go to college, but knows that’s probably not possible.
“I don’t even have a car to transport my kids around,” she said. “I have to carry my groceries home. I have to carry my laundry back and forth, if I have the $25. Sometimes I wash our clothes in the sink.”
Though Alexis Wright isn’t a fast-food worker, she marched because she worked in child care for five years, and knows how hard it is to take care of children while working for low wages. A person who makes the current minimum wage at 40 hours a week for a full year of 52 weeks makes $15,080 before taxes — far too little to afford care, Wright said.
Her concerns are apparently shared by many in Iowa — A recent Public Policy Polling poll showed that 70 percent of likely Iowa caucusgoers think child care is too expensive for working- and middle-class families.
“I’ve lived in Iowa my whole life, and in the past 10 years, our cost of living has gone up so much, but our wages haven’t gone up any,” she said. “I’m a second generation child care worker. My mom did child care for 12 years, ran her own in-home daycare. So I speak from experience when it comes to things like this.”
CREDIT: Emily Atkin
The Fight for 15 workers’ movement has gained considerable prominence over the past few years. Several states and cities have raised their minimum wage with the campaign in mind, and some members of Congress have been pushing a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, although with little success.
The issue of raising the minimum wage has also become prominent in this presidential election — at least on the Democratic side of the race. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley say they support raising it to $15 an hour. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton has said she supports raising it to $12 an hour.
The Fight for 15 workers will protest again Thursday night in front of the Republican debate, in hopes of getting their message across to some in the other party. Their effort, however, will likely fall on deaf ears — all of the candidates on the Republican side roundly reject the idea of raising the minimum wage, much less more than doubling it. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, a billionaire, has even called current wages “too high.”
Still, the Fight for 15 organizers are hoping they can gain enough momentum and support to show the GOP candidates what they’re missing if they oppose raising the minimum wage.
“If you’re not supporting $15 an hour and affordable child care, you won’t get our vote,” said Terrence Wise, a member of Fight for 15’s national organizing committee. “There are 64 million workers that make less than $15 an hour. That’s a big voting block. And if you want our vote, you’re going to have to address our issues.”