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Food, Wages & Equity

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WPFW – Arise!

Low wages and diminished quality of life has plagued many Americans for decades. The average “middle class” family – unable to afford an emergency that exceeds $400 – has been shoved into the growing ranks of the working poor. But, what happens when the “emergency” is groceries, rent or travel costs to get to work?


Gwen McKinney recently explored the subject on WPFW’s Arise! Guest hosting for Bill Fletcher, Gwen was joined by in-studio guest Brian Smedley, executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity (NCHE). The guests also included Terrence Wise, Kansas City activist in Fight For Fifteen and Felipe Tendick Matesanz, affiliate director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United Chicago office.


Smedley underscored that equity is a big intersectional tent, covering the wide swath of human needs including wages, food security, health, environmental justice and personal wellbeing against racism and disrespect.


Smedley’s NCHE featured Wise and Tendick Matesanz at meeting earlier this year themed People, Power, Purpose (P3) Summit.


Wise, a fast food restaurant workers, dived into the movement of low wage workers but expanded his activism to tenants’ rights, immigrant rights and other social justice issues. He admits to “keeping my head down on the job” until one day learning that workers were a mighty force together.


What movements do is expand your reach and opportunity to affect change, Wise offers, “It started with me wanting more money in my pocket, but it’s about more than wage equality. It’s about racial equality as well. If Latino workers are treated differently, if white workers are attacked on the job, they’re going to come for Black and brown workers as well.”


“Many workers go through the cycle of getting up and going to work every day – it’s what we’re taught to do,” said Wise. “It’s what I’ve done for years, but never saw life get better. In between homelessness, inability to keep food on the table, juggling bills…I found out that coworkers were experiencing the same dilemmas.”


Tendick Matesanz, of ROC noted that the concept of tipping began shortly after slavery. The original Pullman porters, a workforce of former slaves, were enlisted to service wealthy rail cars passengers. Paid no wages, the practice of tipping grew into compensation for their labor.


The denigrating tip and denial of fair wages has persisted since the 1800s, revealed the ROC leader.  “Workers deserve one fair wage and there’s no need for a subminimum wage. The restaurant industry is one of the few where it’s allowable to not pay their employees minimum wage. Seven of the ten lowest paying positions in this nation are housed in the restaurant industry.”



Listen to the full episode here.

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