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My Story Shows How Sticking Together Works

Terrence Wise and his family Terrence Wise, his fiancee and his three daughters.


Almost a year ago, I was given a nearly unbelievable opportunity. I was asked to introduce President Obama when he spoke at the White House Summit On Worker Voice. Meeting the president at the White House was a place I did not expect to get to. I work for McDonald's. Many people like me who do this work often feel like we are overlooked by powerful people. I started working when I was 16. Now, after doing food service work for almost twenty years, I am paid $9 per hour. I get no benefits, no vacation, no paid time off for anything. I have three daughters. My fiancee works as a home health care worker, another job that does not pay much. Every bill is a challenge. We put this much towards our light bill, a little bit more towards our gas bill, and then we pray a disconnect notice doesn’t come. For people who do this kind of work, one little thing, like a flu or an injury, means you can fall behind quickly. Twice, we’ve been homeless. I remember one time when we were living in our minivan and my fiancee and I were putting on our uniforms to go to work. My daughters were getting their backpacks and school clothes ready. That hit me hard, because I realized that we live in the richest country in the world, we are both working parents, and yet we didn’t have a place to live.

Terrence shares his story at the White House Summit on Worker Voice in 2015. Terrence shares his story at the White House Summit on Worker Voice in 2015.


But things are changing. A few years ago, I got involved in the Fight for $15 movement. We are a movement of Americans who work in jobs that pay wages so low that we are blocked into poverty. We were invisible, but now we are standing together for a $15 per hour wage floor and for the freedom to join together in unions. We have learned that by using our strength in numbers and by sticking together, we can actually be heard. When we went on strike at restaurants around the country, people started to notice and listen. And when home care workers, child care teachers, airport baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants, and higher education faculty joined us, we got even more powerful. We’re getting results and we’re winning raises. In response to our movement, elected officials in California, New York, and other places have moved to lift minimum wage floors to $15 per hour. This will mean more families getting a shot at getting ahead. Fewer working moms and dads will have to worry about their kids going hungry. Meeting President Obama was a highlight of my life so far. But I always tell people that moment wasn’t about me. It was a milestone for a movement that is powered by the the contributions and hopes of so many working Americans who want something better for our future. Our hope — our goal — is to create an economy that works for all of our families, not just people who are wealthy and powerful. Editor's note: Share your worker voice story with us, and join the conversation online using #StartTheConvo to say why #WorkerVoice is important to you. Terrence Wise is a leader of the Fight for $15 movement.


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In response to the respondent who states WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THIS INCREASE IN MINIMUM WAGE--I say those MILLIONS of customers who CAN AFFORD to dine out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They apparently have enough money to SPLURGE. I do agree they should have been encouraged by those INSENSITIVE school counselors in public schools to either enroll in APPRENTICESHIP programs to secure a better wage rather than allowing those FEDERAL dollars to go to those PREFERRED students --who parents can afford to splurge and eat out!
Why not do something to better yourself instead of working at a stepping stone job for 20 years? Many college and trade school opportunities out there. Why not help yourself instead of expecting to be over paid for a job that's supposed to be filled by teenagers just starting out?

In reply to by Jim (not verified)

Maybe, Jim, he can't afford to go to college or a trade school. Even if he could get loans, grants or scholarships, it is still really expensive to continue an education, sadly. Nowadays, a college education isn't really needed in order to succeed in life. To some, McDonalds can provide life long career options and room to grow instead of just being a "stepping stone". Don't forget that a company like that also has positions that are offered in other businesses or corporations in vast departments. It isn't just about being a teenager working as a cashier, flipping burgers or running the driver thru. I am sure there are people of all ages working at McDonalds. That just shows how closed minded you are! At least he is doing something better for himself and others by being a leader and trying to make a positive difference in how people are paid for their years of hard work. Before being judgmental on this human's capabilities, have some understanding that there may be larger factors that are preventing him to do those things you questioned. I do not and have not worked for McDonalds but I do know what it was like to live off a minimum wage.
I think this was very well spoken and I am smiling at the thought of this man and his wife who work so hard being such positive role models for their three daughters.
Wow! Jim and Melanie you are rough.
While I am grieved to hear that a family is living out of its van and find themselfves homeless in America., I remain perplexed by several things: First, the family probably makes over $40,000 with two wage earners coming in at $9-10 an hour and due to family size probably doesn't have to pay any taxes. Furthermore, again due to family size, etc. they probably get free healthcare through Obamacare. I personally make more than this family, but I have to pay taxes on my income and I have to pay for mine and my husband's health insurance which is more than $1,000 a month. In the end, I think we probably make about the same I don't buy that making minimum wage is always such a bad thing when a lot of things are free. I am eligible for NOTHING FREE but end up at about the same place... Also, I see a person who probably should not have had three children if he/she did not make a reasonable living, etc. These are choices that a person is responsible for. The decision to have children was solely at the discretion of the individual named here. And last, who is going to pay for the increase in wages to $15? Restaurants are being mandated with increasing costs by the government that are ruining the restaurants to make ends meet. This is the biggest question....WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THIS INCREASE IN MINIMUM WAGE?

In reply to by Melanie Gray (not verified)

I must agree, the details that you mention and address are always left out or glossed over in the conversation for a higher minimum wage. They treat it like it is the silver bullet for society. Not so, won't guarantee more jobs, reality says it will remove jobs and cost businesses who may have to close. This man and his wife pay little to no taxes and get many benefits that they don't ever include in their annual income. He could probably also go to college free.Consumers going to pay $20.00 for a Big Mac?
Based on Ms. Gray one can see that she "personally" earns twice as much as she calculates Mr. Wise and his fiancée do. Presumably there's at least one other earner in the Gray household, who likely earns about as much as Ms. Gray. So they probably earn almost $200,000 per year. No wonder the Gray family has to pay taxes and to pay more for health insurance than Mr. Wise and his fiancée need to. But surely the Wises can afford to pay a little more for each Big Mac so people like Mr. Wise are treated fairly by their employers. Mr. Wise does not say that his family gets any public assistance but it's a known fact that workers who earn very low wages depend on various kinds of public assistance to make ends meet. So taxpayers like Ms. Wise are already paying more for their Big Macs than the price McDonald's charges. Except that it's done in the most inefficient, bureaucratic way, by the government.