Worker-leaders who sparked the fight for $15 in Seattle reflect on the victory

Seattle has begun its phase in towards the $15 minimum wage that workers won. 100,000  workers will see raises over the course of the $15 phase in.

Brittany Phelps

Brittany Phelps

Brittany Phelps

Fast food worker, McDonald’s

I was with my daughter during the city council vote for $15. There were tears in my eyes, but I was really happy. It meant a lot.

Right now I live with my mom, my daughter, and my three other sisters in a two-bedroom in Skyway. I want to go to school for culinary arts, and I see myself having my own restaurant some day — being successful, and paying my employees a living wage. But in the condition I’m in right now, I don’t see a way to get there.

A higher paycheck will make a difference, let me start putting stuff aside so I can have, like, steps. I’ll be able to stop worrying about what can I do and what can’t I do — I’d be able to do more. If my daughter wants to go to the movies I could be just OK, let’s go to the movies. Or, you wanna go to the zoo? Let’s go to the zoo! Or, you wanna go to the Space Needle, I’ll take you up to the Space Needle! Because she’s adventurous. I could be like, yeah, I can afford that instead of me saying oh no, mommy can’t do that, that bill just popped up, Mommy needs bus fare.

I just want to see my living situation change.

Jason Harvey

Jason Harvey

Jason Harvey

Customer Service Leader, Burger King

I knew I wanted that coat to express my patriotism and my hope for our future as a nation, and I still believe that our struggles to get and keep $15 is a big part of that.

The worst part of low wages for me has been having to rely on charity to pay my bills and feed myself. With higher wages I’ll be able to work for the things that I need and maybe have enough left over to take a woman on a date, treat her nice, and not have it break my piggy bank for the next six months.

I’ve been part of the struggle since its beginning, and I know we won a lot faster than I was even hoping for here. The first thing I’m going to do with my raise is get a nice dinner and actually go out to a movie for the first time in more than five years.

Crystal Thompson

Crystal Thompson

crystal thompson

Customer Service Rep, Cashier, and Cook, Domino’s

This photo is from when we marched all the way from Seattle to Bellevue.  We had already won $15 in Seattle so were hoping to help and supporter our fellow Eastside workers so they can win $15 too. I was involved in the fight in Seattle quite a bit. I went on strike, shared my story, talked with media, talked with city councilmembers, did some actions, and more.

Low wages have forced my family to live in poverty. I am not able to afford to have my own place or live in a safe neighborhood. My son sleeps in the living room on our couch. I can’t afford to go back to school or drive a car. Just paying the lights is a struggle at times. We are simple folk and don’t wear fancy clothing. We are forced to live off food stamps and my employee discount at work.

Higher pay means possibly being able to move to a safer community, and have my own place. Upgrade to a larger apartment so my son can have his own bedroom. Be able to afford transportation. And I’d like to go back to school if possible.

Malcolm Cooper-Suggs

Malcolm Cooper-Suggs

malcolm cooper-suggs

Grill/cashier, McDonald’s

Low wages affect me the same as everyone — you can’t get everything you want, and sometimes you just have to flip a coin on the things you need. This first raise is going to make me more comfortable and feel better on the inside too.

I think Seattle was the first city to get $15 because we’re the best! We are a city of progressive leaders who are thinking about the future, and about how expensive it is to live here. I helped: I spoke out, went on strike, talked to other workers, got arrested in Bellevue, and did media interviews. In this picture I was being interviewed about my thoughts on the lawsuit that the IFA filed to try and overturn the law.

It’s been a real fight — for me it’s very symbolic, taking a stand against corporations. Most of all I remember my own doubt because I didn’t know such a thing like $15 was possible. But it is, and that’s amazing — now I think anything is possible.

Tobias Boucher

Tobias Boucher

tobias boucher

Receiving Clerk, Bartell Drugs

We did this great event where we circled city hall. A lot of people were feeling good and there was a lot of support from people walking by. This was the first time I had ever done an action like this and it felt great.

I remember the stories I heard from people like me who weren’t making anywhere near a good enough wage to live on. That’s why I spent time talking to other people about it: talking to City Council members about, going to events. I met with the mayor and told him about myself and my job. I did anything I could do that I thought would help.

Low wages have impacted me in a lot of ways: basic quality of living standards, being able to care for my family and loved ones properly, and being able to care for myself. It’s the same way it has affected many others. Lower wages make it really hard to move forward in life. You spend so much time trying to make ends meet that you can’t think about the future.

Higher wages will allow me to move forward. Where I am now is just paycheck to paycheck. This will give me a little extra to invest in my future.

Sylvia Lang

Sylvia Lang

sylvia liang

Homecare worker

We were visiting several city council members, including Councilmember Burgess. That’s his aide there. We shared our stories about what we do, and why we feel like we deserve $15. What I did was I used my true personal experience and true feelings to express why I deserve to make $15, if not more. I explained how I take care of two people — someone really old and someone really young. They are both really vulnerable, and their quality of life depends on me — I do my job with love and devotion, and I so deserve to have decent pay for what I do.

I have to work a lot, and my quality of life suffers when I devote my time and energy to working too many hours — I need time to devote to myself.

Seattle is a very passionate, liberal city, and we are on the cutting edge of all cities – there is a lot going on in our city. I really remember the Target employees walking out in May. We had all worked really hard to fight together, for $15 and when fellow workers rushed out of Target, the momentum was very moving.

We have the energy here to push forward, and are not afraid to be the pioneers. I’m proud of my city.

Caroline Durocher

Caroline Durocher

caroline durocher

Night Crew, Taco Bell

We had been pushed to the edge, and then we took a stand. I could not have been more excited, or more hopeful. And the feeling, when my store shut down, I wasn’t a Taco Bell employee anymore — I was a human being.

My employer has pushed and pushed my co-workers and me and gotten everything they can out of us. That was the day we joined together and pushed back.

It’s easy to not think about the person serving you your food. We definitely get disrespected a lot and looked down upon for being in fast food.

One of my checks goes to my half of the rent, and once I buy groceries and pay my bills, there isn't really anything left to save up. But I shouldn't have to barely scrape by. I should be able to start saving some money to go back to school, but I can't.

Our backs were firmly against the wall. But now I can envision a future in which I earn enough to live, eat and go back to school.

Luis Jimenez

Luis Jimenez

luis jimenez

Fast Food Worker, McDonald’s

I remember walking out of the McDonald’s. It felt good — exciting. And going on strike was important for me because I have a lot of people that I’m taking care of.

I have three granddaughters who lost their father, and they depend on me.

That is why I work so many hours. All this effort, all I’m doing, is for them to be successful. I know that getting the $15 will help.

Chris Heath

Chris Heath

chris heath

Crisis Respite Intensive Case Manager, DESC

I remember in this photo that I was upset because I had worked a double shift and I was tired. We first got involved when I was working double shifts and having to cover shortages that we had at DESC. We couldn’t staff our agency because our wages were too low.

But the hard work I put it for my clients wasn’t resulting in fair wages.

Low wages have kept me out of proper housing and stopped me from being able to pay back my student loans. This was something I could do that would impact more people than just myself.

The first thing I’m going to do when I get my raise is be happy that I can pay my rent and afford food and not worry about being on food stamps. I think it will make it easier for me to pay off my loans so I can get out of debt. Then, I can participate in the economy, like buying a home and investing in my future. Passing the $15 minimum wage is a first step to bring the whole country along for a fair wage and economic equality.

Martina Phelps

Martina Phelps

martina phelps

Trained in all areas, McDonald’s

This is from the SeaTac to Seattle march. I remember I was amped! I had to give a speech and I was nervous — it was my first time speaking to a large crowd. I was exhausted and cold but it was worth it. I did a lot of other things after that: I boycotted, I went on strike in May 2014, spoke to politicians like Kshama Sawant and Patty Murray, and l did a lot of news interviews.

With these raises coming, the first thing I want to do is save up for a car and have reliable transportation. Then I’m thinking about going back to college to be a surgical tech. But right now, I’m broke — this month I have to decide whether to pay our electric bill or rent. I’m lucky to have family, because 98% of my check is gone before I get it.

Kirk Duncan & Deb Dahlin

Kirk Duncan & Deb Dahlin

kirk duncan

Material Handler, Graybar Electric

I remember all of the places that people were coming from, all of the people, workers, organizations and groups. We really had broad-based support. And I was proud that labor unions were helping to improve working conditions for those folks who are generally not organized. It’s good for the community as a whole, not just people who will see their wages increase with the new law.

There is a big gap between the rich and the poor in Seattle. The number of homeless and billionaires is increasing. And people who are working on minimum wage are on the edge of surviving and working several jobs.

The fight for $15 showed that a popular movement can raise awareness of an issue and bring it to fruition. I doorbelled to encourage people to support the $15 initiative in SeaTac too. I was excited and impressed when we won it in SeaTac and people marched from SeaTac to Seattle. I was glad to see it spill over to Seattle and include a bigger community and prevail.  This is a way that people can react to that and do something about that gap. And I hope this shows people that they can see a little better future.

deb dahlin

Shipping & Receiving, Macy’s

What I remember is the enthusiasm.  Everyone was so enthusiastic! These people trying to survive on $9/hr – nobody can live on that.  Everybody deserves a living wage so that they can pay the bills, pay their rent, and support their families.  What’s the matter with us?  Thank God we got it now!

I remember all of the employers that didn’t want to give it. How crummy of you, you big, rich guys.  I remember them saying, “We’ll go out of business.” I said, “Oh you will not!” I said maybe you’ll just have to take a teeny, weeny bit less.

Seattle was the first city to pass $15 because we are labor activists, we are progressives, and we care about our citizens and we put our money where our mouth is. Our mayor was for it. It was great.

It isn’t right for people working 40 hours and working hard to make such low wages. People need to make a living wage.  They shouldn’t have to worry every month. They won’t have to struggle so much to pay their bills. It’ll be a lot better. They’ll have some piece of mind, which we all deserve.