Jason Harvey has been involved with Working Washington since the very beginning. He worked at Burger King and went out on strike multiple times and became a leader in the victory of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage.
There is a quote that says that people who steal should quit stealing so they can give back to society. If you talk to a thief today he is going to laugh in your face and say what kind of job can I get to give back to my society? That is the point. I don’t have anything to give back to society with the work I’m doing now. It’s not my fault when I’m working as hard as I am working. I work hard for what little I get. I should be able to give back, but I don’t because I can’t. That’s unnerving to me.
I’ve worked at Burger King, the one out in Ballard right across from Safeway, for eight years. I worked similar jobs before. Right now I’m making minimum wage. I work 28 hours a week. Used to be it was 33 to 40, depending on how staffed we were at the time. I would consistently get 33 hours and if I wanted more I would go up to the boss and say hey I want a few more hours this week, it really wasn’t that big of a problem.
They have changed the amount of hours we are getting. Our employer has said two things. One, it was about Obamacare, but in the Seattle Weekly he said it was just a change in business practices to keep people from going to overtime. But I was kept from overtime before, so I don’t believe that. Eleven and a half hours buffer now!
People say that it’s not skilled labor, but it does take a skill set to get good at it. I’ve been doing it for eight years now. When I first started, I mean I didn’t know anything about it.
You still have to have a food handler’s permit but that doesn’t teach you how to handle food completely. There are tricks to the trade. There’s a trick on how to talk to people. A trick to not getting pissed off when things are going against you, which can go at any time of the day when things go wrong. There is a mentality you have to have to keep this kind of a job. I mean, there are classes you could probably teach on fast food: How to handle the customer who doesn’t know what they want. How to handle the customer who is going to be irate. How to handle any situation that could come your way.
And so to say that it is not skilled labor is kind of dumb, I guess.
I consider myself working poor in Seattle
I’ve had trouble finding work. I took me six months on unemployment trying to get this job. I didn’t want to go back to fast food, but it was the only job I could find, eight years ago. I was applying for grocery clerk positions, security positions around different places, anything in sales because I’m a personable guy, but it was hard. When I got tired of things not panning out, I went back to something I knew.
I like the flexibility of the hours. I really like the people that I’m working with and 90% of the customers. There’s always the oddball here and there, but that’s not very often. Mostly it is regular customers and people that you know and people that you wouldn’t mind having a barbecue with.
I really hate doing dishes. After eight years of seniority I should be able to not have to do the dishes. I don’t like cleaning the bathrooms or taking out the garbage. I’m 43 now, the trek is starting to get a little bit tough. Putting stuff in the freezer and dry storage, some of those boxes are like 55 pounds. The delivery truck comes twice a week.
Sometimes people don’t get treated right. I don’t have that problem personally cause I’m good at what I’m doing, but if you don’t have any experience when you start and you don’t have the ability to move on faster, sometimes some of the managers might degrade you a little bit. I’ve seen that several times with several different people, and sometimes they don’t apply themselves after that. And that is disconcerting, to see that. They don’t get the proper nurturing or whatever you want to call it. Some people don’t work there very long. Some people are called stupid in the heat of the moment. It’s about respect. Treat people the way you want to be treated instead of mistreating people because you can.
You need to treat poor people fairly. There are things all through scripture about that. I consider myself working poor in Seattle — I mean, how could I not? People need to have enough for their own personal dignity, to have enough for people to eat, to wear, to meet their basic needs. That is just common sense if you want a thriving economy, if you want a spiritual economy that people are going to be able to live their faith and work out of their faith.
My sister doesn’t even talk to me about it
It was still a little scary to go on a strike. It does get easier but you don’t really get over the fear of am I really doing this again? You really have to talk yourself through it and realize that it is something that is necessary and worth doing. It isn’t something that I take lightly. It is something that is part of my faith, and I’ve prayed through it. It’s something that I think God wants me to do.
I have a relationship with God. I pray to Him and I worship Him. I have worship music here in the house. I get into a spirit of prayer where I feel like I can hear His voice and His being close to me and finding His heart in the direction of where I should go. I get a peace about where I’m heading, a new resolve when I’m in that atmosphere. If it is something that He doesn’t want me to do, He has a way of getting my attention. He has a way of speaking to those who trust and seek Him out. You seek God. He is the rewarder of those who seek Him. Sometimes that reward is just saying you are on the right path, you are moving in the right direction. I feel like God really wants me to follow through with this. I need to see it through to completion.
I was scared out of my boots, especially the first strike. I knew it was the right thing, I knew I had to move forward, but it was really scary, especially the first one. To even agree to go out on strike the first time am I really going through with this? It was definitely a new experience for me and definitely moving out of my comfort zone. It’s not something that you do because it feels fun, but I had to do it.
It has been worth it to go through the process of the whole situation. I mean, I’ve learned a lot doing the things that I’ve been doing. I’ve learned what it is like to go on strike, learned what it’s like to be part of an organization. I’ve learned what it’s like to disagree with someone and still call them my friend or my family and to know that you are in the right and say we might just have to disagree on this one.
My sister doesn’t even talk to me about it. My dad said that $15 was more than I made in my entire life. I got a positive response from a foster parent who said it is the right thing to do. I really respect her and that was good to hear. She lives in a place of 300 people in the entire town in Oregon, between Ashland and Medford. You can get to either city in five minutes by car. The town has one gas station and one grocery store. I lived with them for about three years. I forget how old I was, but I went to Phoenix High School for a couple of years. That was interesting.
Being in the position to have them listen
I’ve been with Working Washington since the beginning of the campaign. I’ve done three strikes now, I’ve taken an arrest in protest of wage theft not being prosecuted. I’ve talked with unions. I’ve talked with the press. I’ve talked to faith organizations. I’ve been quite active.
I didn’t expect to be anywhere close to where we were a year ago. A year ago I was disappointed in us only having 400 people or only having shut down nine places, because we were only seven cities strong or something. It was hard to talk to people I worked with because they didn’t agree with us, and some of the managers didn’t agree with us.
So to say we are going to be 160 cities strong and who knows how many nations around the globe in a year — if I would have envisioned that, that would have just been crazy talk. I was expecting this fight to take years and maybe me going through two or three jobs. We are now on the verge of getting it passed and it has just been amazing. Scary and amazing.
It’s been a powerful move in this campaign that we’ve had such access to the mayor and the city council and people like that who are moving forward with our agenda. To be able to ask questions and have my views penetrate them has been very powerful as well. Being able to have an effect on them has been really powerful. We wouldn’t have been in the place we are if we hadn’t been able to meet with the mayor or the city council and things like that throughout the process. It was an election year. That probably made a huge difference that they were even going to listen to us. And being in the position to have them listen was a big deal.
You don’t deserve that just for saying “Hi”
I live in a one bedroom. Legally a studio I think. All I have is a partition that separates my bedroom from the dining area. I do have a full bathroom and kitchen. It is really cozy. I’ve been living there for 12 years now. It is low-income housing. I can’t afford to live anywhere else. It is 33% of what I make now, so about $300. It is subsidized and market rate is over $800. It will always be that. They will raise my rent a little bit, but I will still get more on that side. It’s not going to hurt me to get to $15. So I may have to pay a higher rent, but I can afford to go to the grocery store.
Right now I have a debt that I’m trying to pay off. I actually need to have food stamps. I’m a stubborn person so when I decided to go down and apply, it was apply or don’t eat. I was going to food banks at the time. Even with food banks and food stamps, I still have to buy food. It was go get the food stamps, or go hungry for one or two meals. It was necessary.
As soon as I got my debts paid off I would get my teeth fixed. I’ve been waiting for a couple of years now. I’m still struggling just to make it with food stamps. There is some dental insurance available but I can’t even make the $30 a month insurance unless I want to go hungry again. If I was making $15 I could still use my VA benefits and I would be able to cover the insurance costs. Medical is already covered. Vision, I don’t know. I’ve had 20/20 my whole life. I’m lucky that way.
First thing when we get $15 is I would definitely forget to renew the food stamps! I mean, I don’t like living off of the charity of others and the government, and that would be the first thing to go. I would go and buy my own food. I wouldn’t be buying a smorgasbord. I’ll still be buying the same kind of stuff. I will still be watching the sales and doing coupons, but it will be buying it with my own money. I won’t have to tell the government how much I’m making or how much I have in my account. It would feel really good.
Hopefully five to ten years from now we will have won the things that are important and I can move on. If I can’t get re-promoted, then I’m going to have to find something else. Either a checking position in a grocery store or I would apply for security. Hopefully it won’t be something that is dead-end so I can move up in the ranks. I mean there are a lot of places out there where you can get entry-level security and checking positions. As long as they got a decent union, you can find a way to move up in the ranks.
One thing that I’ve wanted my whole life is to get married and start a family. It hasn’t really panned out for me. I’ve been close a couple times. I haven’t been engaged. I’ve had some women really close to me, but it just hasn’t worked out.
I think I’m a nice guy. I don’t deserve half of the hate that I see in people’s eyes. If you got to know me you would understand. Sometimes you say “Hi” to somebody and they look like you just insulted them. You don’t deserve that just for saying “Hi.”
I mean, if you look at the whole picture you can’t just say that it is personal failings where I’m at right now. Fewer people have the ability to oppose us after seeing someone’s real life, after seeing something so truthful and deeply oriented. It brings more light and exposure and truth to the idea that $15 an hour is actually necessary.
I like to do karaoke. I like video games, hanging out with friends from time to time. I’d like to have some time to clean my house. I do karaoke down at Teeny Biggs, used to be called the Romper Room. I don’t really completely fit in there, but it is close to my house. I do a decent job singing but I’m not a professional. You don’t want to hear me do “Baby Got Back” unless you are in for a laugh. I sing it all, from Prince, Madonna, to some country, a little rap. I try to read the crowd because I like to be applauded.
Sometimes I don’t like what they are thinking. I sing with my feelings on my shirt sometimes. I think that the last thing I sung was an Elvis song, “Little Sister.”
Little Sister don’t you do what your big sister done!