Advocacy grows for low-wage workers

On a day when President Barack Obama spoke in favor of a higher minimum wage, a small group of worker advocates in Kansas City issued a similar call.

“We’re telling real people’s stories,” said the Rev. Donna Simon, pastor of St. Mark Hope Peace Lutheran Church at 3800 Troost Ave. “Most people are surprised to hear about the difficulty of living on $15,000 a year.”

That’s about what a federal minimum-wage earner makes, working 40 hours a week for $7.25 an hour. That’s been the same for four years. The Missouri minimum is slightly higher, $7.35, because of an inflation-adjustment law.

Obama, speaking Wednesday in Galesburg, Ill., said, “Whether you owned a company, swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain — a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and benefits.…

“No one who works full time in America should have to live in poverty,” he said, vowing, “I will keep making the case that we need to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office.”

Simon and others, including members of

Jobs With Justice


Communities Creating Opportunity

, labor unions and the legal profession, are allied with fast-food and retail workers in the Kansas City area to launch a “Good Jobs for All” campaign.

“We’re glad to have community support,” said Terrance Wise, who works about 70 hours a week at two fast-food jobs. “No company will just give us more on our own. But with organization we can stand together.”

After eight years at a Burger King, Wise said he earned $9.30 an hour. He makes $7.45 an hour at his second job, at a Pizza Hut, where he’s worked for two years. His fiancee also works two part-time jobs, “but we still sometimes come up short” to pay all the bills, he said.

“This is basically a campaign for economic dignity,” Simon said.

Gina Chiala, a lawyer with Slough Connealy Irwin Madden, said: “We need to have a public dialogue when hard workers are being paid poverty wages. We’re part of a national effort in cities across the country. We’re saying these corporations can afford to pay workers a living wage.”

The Kansas City organizers plan to increase public awareness at a rally set for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in Gillham Park, near 39th Street and Gillham Road. They’ve also set up a website at


Wise said he’s been trying to spread the word by picking out fellow fast-food workers when he rides the Metro bus to and from his jobs.

“I recognize them by their uniforms, and I tell them that a year ago I was afraid to speak out because of fear of retaliation at work, fear of losing my job,” Wise said. “But we have many workers who no longer are afraid to speak out.”

Nationally, an organization called Business for Shared Prosperity has begun a petition drive at

. The organization says that consumer demand drives job creation and that better-paying jobs increase productivity, worker quality and customer satisfaction.

“Workers are also customers,” Simon said. “It’s a benefit for companies, for communities, when workers can afford to buy the products they sell.”

The Kansas City campaign organizers acknowledge that there may be uphill battles to persuade national and state legislators to raise the minimum wage, but they said they believe the public supported an increase.

According to a poll released this week by the National Employment Law Project, 75 percent of American adults polled backed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and adjusting it for the cost of living in future years.

Also this week, Hart Research Associates issued survey results that put support for a $10.10 an hour minimum, with built-in cost-of-living adjustments, at 80 percent of American adults.

“Approval is voiced not only by Democrats (92 percent) and low-income adults (83 percent), but also by such traditionally conservative groups as Republicans (62 percent), southern whites (75 percent), and those with incomes over $100,000 (79 percent),” Hart researchers said. “We also find solid support for the $10.10 minimum wage among swing political constituencies, including independents (80 percent) and non-college whites (80 percent).”