Things were better for Mary Carmen Farfan when she worked at Burger King 10 years ago. Although she only made $8 an hour, she was given a full schedule and sometimes even made overtime.
“My paycheck ten years ago, I got more money,” she told ThinkProgress. “Because I had more hours.” Today she makes the California minimum wage of $9 an hour but only gets 28 hours a week, making it difficult to support her four children, one of whom is in college, with her husband who also makes minimum wage.
“That’s why I decided to start doing something,” she said. Farfan is part of a group of fast food workers and community supporters who began a 15-day fast outside of the Los Angeles city hall two weeks ago to demand a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. The fast will end with a rally on Wednesday. Farfan said that more than a week in she was sometimes feeling dizzy and “so, so tired.” But she also said it’s worth it. “I’m definitely ready to fight and do whatever we have to do for my kids,” she said. “I want a better life for them. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Fast food workers like Farfan have staged nationwide strikes and protests to demand a $15 wage and the right to form a union. That pay floor has caught on in some places like Seattle and San Francisco, which both raised their wages to that level. Los Angeles lawmakers are considering joining them by raising the city’s wage to $15.25 by 2019.
Those lawmakers are the target of the fast. “We’re trying to send a message to the mayor,” said Martha Sanchez, a Los Angeles rep for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. They’ve set up camp outside of city hall and are waiting to see who comes over to them. “The politicians are trying to figure out [whether] to come out to say hi or not at all,” she said. So far some have come to shown their support. But, she said, “we still have 13 more council members right there sitting at their tables wondering what to do.”
Sanchez says her fast has been all too familiar because her mother struggled to provide food when she was growing up. “It’s not difficult, because I grew up hungry,” she said. “I’m not doing anything radical, I’m doing exactly the same thing that thousands of moms are doing in silence in their homes.”
There have been good days for Anggie Godoy, a 19-year-old cashier at McDonald’s, as she fasts and some where she feels worse and doesn’t have much energy. But she’s fasting to grab lawmakers’ attention. “If they’re not taking us seriously when we’re striking and they’re not hearing us maybe if we do this it shows them we’re willing…to put ourselves out there, for them to know that we will do whatever it takes,” she said. “They need to hear us, to notice us.”
Godoy recently graduated high school and wants to go to college, but she’s the eldest of three kids and has to help her mother pay the bills with her $9 an hour wage. “I’m now stressing over how I’m going to pay for college,” she said. “I’m trying to save up but it’s so hard because I have bills here, bills there, my mom doesn’t have enough for her bills.”
But she thinks if she were to get a $15 an hour wage, higher education would be within reach. “I wouldn’t be stressing about going to college,” she said.
Mary Carmen Farfan says a $15 wage would be “a huge change” for her family. It could allow her to buy nicer clothes for them or possibly even travel. “Maybe we can have more opportunity to get better things for my kids.”